Film review: Bel Canto

David Gritten / 26 April 2019

Lip-syncing efficiently to arias sung by Renee Fleming, Moore’s diva Roxane Coss stands out in a large international cast.



Julianne Moore never seems to turn in a sub-standard performance on film, and true to form she’s believable as a renowned opera singer caught up in a lengthy hostage drama played out in an embassy somewhere in South America. Lip-syncing efficiently to arias sung by Renee Fleming, Moore’s diva Roxane Coss stands out in a large international cast.

She has been asked to perform at the embassy for a huge sum by a wealthy Japanese industrialist (Ken Watanabe) with amorous designs on her.  But rebels storm the building and insist on political reforms before they will free the hostages.

Bel Canto, based on Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel, has its moments – and some good supporting performances, notably Sebastian Koch as a harassed Red Cross negotiator.  But as the standoff in the embassy drags on and rebels, distinguished guests and embassy staff intermingle and find common cause in shared humanity, the story seems to stall. Organised games of football break out, as do a few implausible romances.

This may work to fine dramatic effect on the printed page, but on film the story feels overstretched and sometimes faintly absurd. Moore’s talents will be better served in future – but this is a hard film to recommend.

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