Outstanding as a terrorism film that relies on plot and character development, not gunplay, Four Days in September (Miramax) is a passionate and engaging bilingual thriller aimed at a multi-cultural audience.
The film is the adaptation of Fernando Gabiera’s book of the same title. It chronicles the terrorists’ perspective of the 1969 kidnapping of Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick (Alan Arkin, Glengarry Glen Ross) by a mildly bumbling group of young Brazilian idealists.
The insurrectionists call themselves the MR-8 and are labeled “bourgeois” terrorists by the revolutionary establishment. They conspire to kidnap the American ambassador to Brazil in order to attract international attention to an unjust Brazilian dictatorship.
The leader of a group of the kidnappers is a well-established and angry zealot, Jonas (Pedro Cardoso), and his cohort Mr. Toledo (Luiz Fernando Guimaraes), who hail from the older National Liberation Group.
While the group is holed up with Ambassador Elbrick, the Brazilian government weighs its options. The inexperienced MR-8 insurgents’ relationships, worries and determination are investigated – as the “rules” of terrorism break down in practice.
The film’s center is Paulo (Fernanda Torres), a gentle University student and a gifted writer whose personal goal in the rebellion is opening the press he sees as horribly censored. Paulo is the link between the oppressive government and the extremists from the National Liberation Group.
A young group of Latino actors that few American filmgoers will recognize provide outstanding performances. Heavy use of subtitles somewhat detracts from the effect of the big screen, and is distracting for viewers not accustomed to it. Nonetheless, the acting and excellent camera work allow the film to captivate its audience.
The complexity of the sequence of events leading up to and during the kidnapping leads to the introduction of several minor characters and tangential sub-plots that do not amount to much. These characters are underdeveloped, making it difficult for the audience to understand their feelings during the ordeal.
Overall, however, the film is nicely balanced and entertaining. Well-placed humor keeps the dialogue fresh, even with the subtitles, and solid writing and performances succeed in courting the moviegoer’s sympathy for the insurgents.
Four Days in September is now playing.4 hatchets