Unlike most hostage dramas, this film isn't about survival, cruelty, or escape; it's a powerfully moving, beautiful story about shared humanity revealed by time and close quarters. Bel Canto avoids any hint of starry-eyed Stockholm Syndrome by simply presenting its subjects as honestly human. The film allows relationships to develop realistically and personalities to emerge organically. Director/co-adapter Paul Weitz helps himself immensely by casting such a superb ensemble. Moore is supple, as always, as she portrays Roxanne's various sides. And Watanabe is, as ever, a powerful screen presence. Lambert has perhaps his most charming role to date as Thibault. Huerta, memorably villainous in a brief appearance in Sin Nombre, slowly reveals a thoughtful humanism as the guerillas' leader. As the translator, Kase is extremely effective as both the glue of the situation and a man who finds himself unexpectedly overcome by passion. Coroy has only one other credit so far, but she delivers perhaps the most sympathetic performance in a film full of them. As young guerilla Carmen, her mix of naïveté, intelligence, and boldness breaks down the barriers between captors and captives.
Roxanne's transformation perhaps best conveys the film's meaning. Early in the ordeal, after a senseless death, she refers to her captors as "not human." But over the months of their shared ordeal, during which kindnesses are bestowed and vulnerabilities exposed, she comes to appreciate and even care for some of them. By the film's end, viewers may also have strong feelings for many of the characters. Wise and poignant, Bel Canto is a powerful film.