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Film Reviews Review: Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe hit the high notes, but Bel Canto falls short of operatic genius

Based on Ann Patchett's best-selling novel, Bel Canto stars Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe.

Pacific Northwest Pictures

  • Bel Canto
  • Directed by: Paul Weitz
  • Written by: Paul Weitz and Anthony Weintraub
  • Starring: Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe
  • Classification: 14A; 102 minutes

rating

Fact: Julianne Moore elevates the most tedious of films (see: Suburbicon). Another fact: Ken Watanabe carries himself with grace and precision, always (see: everything). So sliding the two actors together in a hostage drama makes sense, especially if they’re positioned as potential lovers. But after Bel Canto director Paul Weitz does this, he seems content to call it a day, abandoning much narrative or emotional escalation.

Based on Ann Patchett’s novel of the same name – itself inspired by a real-life 1996 hostage crisis in Peru – Bel Canto follows an elongated standoff between the rebels of an unnamed South American country and the hostages they’ve captured during a party meant to include the country’s president. Included in this cosmopolitan mix is Japanese businessman Katsumi (Watanabe) and Roxane, the Chicago opera star (Moore, with singing by Renée Fleming) originally hired to entertain the guests.

Seasoned audiences can guess where things go from here: The hostages form bonds with their captors, Katsumi and Roxane drift closer to romance, and tragedy looms on the horizon. Weitz (About a Boy) avoids the easy temptation of having all his characters magically speak English, but the dialogue he chooses to give everyone is often obvious and blunt.

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Watanabe and Moore acquit themselves well (although the latter’s lip-syncing is questionable), but Bel Canto falls short of the operatic notes Weitz attempts to hit.

Bel Canto opens Oct. 26 in Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Kelowna.

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