Saturday, October 16, 2021

Held for Ransom—with James Foley

Daniel Rye Ottosen was the last person to see hostage James Foley alive—the last civilized person—who is still living and at liberty talk about it. Most of their fellow hostages are confirmed murdered, but two remain missing. Ottosen was the last to be released, thanks to his family’s desperate efforts. The true story of Ottosen’s captivity is chronicled in Niels Arden Oplev & Anders W. Berthelsen’s Held for Ransom, which is now playing in theaters and on VOD.

For the film treatment, Ottosen is simply known as Daniel Rye, which doesn’t sound as Danish. Regardless, he is tremendously unlucky when he suffers a gymnastics-career ending injury, because it indirectly sets him on the path of photojournalism. Rye did not intend to cover the civil war when he arrived in Syria. Instead, he hoped to document its impact on refugees living in a Syrian border city. Unfortunately, his fixer was not aware the area had fallen under the control of a Daesh (ISIS)-aligned militia.

First, they accused Rye of spying for the CIA, but eventually realized his only value to him was as potential ransom bait. On the advice of “Arthur,” their mysterious ex-military hostage-negotiator, the Rye family tries to keep Daniel’s abduction out of the media. As he explains, the ISIS hostage-takers prefer to see themselves as holy warriors, so they do not appreciate having their violent criminality called out. However, that will make it difficult for the average-Joe Ryes to raise the two million Euros Daesh demands.

It is a sad fact that Danish filmmakers are more interested in telling the stories of Foley and his fellow hostages than Hollywood is, but such certainly seems to be the case. Logically, Oplev and Berthelsen’s focus falls on Rye, a fellow Dane, but they depict Foley with sensitivity and humanity. In fact, Foley represents one of the best turns we’ve seen from Toby Kebbell since
The Escape Artist. Anders Thomas Jensen’s adaptation of Puk Damsgaard Andersen’s book also never waters down the sadistic torture Rye suffered at the hands of Daesh, especially from the infamous “Jihadi John,” who appropriately comes across in the film like a cheap, brutal thug.

Held for Ransom
also makes much of the Danish government’s long-standing policy against negotiating with terrorists. The film is unabashedly critical, but viewers who can step back should understand the intent of the policy is to disincentivize further hostage-taking. It is certainly hard on the Rye (Ottosen) family, but nobody would want to see more families in their position.

Esben Smed’s physical performance as Rye is extraordinary. We see him battered, broken, menaced, betrayed, and pushed past the brink of suicide. Yet, he only really starts to connect on an emotional level when Rye deals with the tragedy of his friend Foley’s murder, as a free man. Co-director Berthelsen really helps carry the film as the intriguing and hard-nosed Arthur, but Sofie Torp’s sister Anita Rye is loaded down with most of the remorseful family cliches.

Aesthetically, Oplev (who helmed the original
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the good one) and Berthelsen opt to keep things relatively safe and conventional, but they do right by Ottosen and Foley, while never excusing or minimizing Daesh’s terrorism. The nearly 140-minute running time probably could have been shaved down without catastrophic consequences, but that is often the case for films over two hours. Even so, it is a film worth seeing, dramatizing an important event. Recommended as a solid film based on recent (and ongoing) terrorism, Held for Ransom is now available on VOD and it is now playing in LA at the Glendale Laemmle.