Docudrama re-creating capture, imprisonment and final release of British and American hostages in mid-’80s Lebanon is a gripping effort, cleverly mixing news footage with top-flight thesping. Commendably, Bernard MacLaverty’s taut script attempts to present various sides of a highly emotional political situation.
Vidpic begins with the April 1986 kidnapping of British TV newsman John McCarthy (Colin Firth), whose cellmates eventually include American University faculty members Brian Keenan (Ciaran Hinds) and Tom Sutherland (Josef Sommer), Associated Press Beirut bureau chief Terry Anderson (Jay O. Sanders), private school principal Frank Reed (Harry Dean Stanton), and Church of England emissary Terry Waite (Colin Asquith).
On the outside, the hostages are championed by Keenan’s sisters (Gabrielle O’Brien, Rosaleen Linehan), Anderson’s sister (Kathy Bates) and McCarthy’s girlfriend (Natasha Richardson).
British, American and Lebanese politicos refuse to help: the Westerners because they supposedly don’t negotiate with terrorists, the Lebanese because government claims no affiliation with or influence over fringe group the Hezbollah — whose demands include release of prisoners by Israeli government.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations resulting in arms-for-hostages scandal are covered, chiefly by news film of Presidents Reagan and Bush, Oliver North, etc.
Lebanese viewpoint is articulated by character Mahmoud, a composite, played by Dan Turgeman as a captor who’s sympathetic to his victims’ plight while championing his group’s cause. Kidnapping, he says, is “the poor man’s way” of getting attention of political powers.
Action is restrained and convincing, never more so than in nice scene where prisoners playfully quibble over the specific gravity of milk.
Stanton is stand-out among cast.
Top-notch work by director David Wheatley, DP John Hooper and editor Tony Ham , dealing with a variety of locations and lighting situations, as well as smooth mixing of docu footage with dramatic re-creations.