One point that often gets left out in cinematic political thrillers is that the people involved are just people. And to its credit, "Four Days in September" tries to humanize the characters on all sides.
For the most part, it's an effective strategy that helps this fact-based dramatic thriller avoid some of the pitfalls of its movie brethren. But it still features at least one plotline too many and, despite the fact that many of the events really happened, the situations seem a little too contrived.
Still, the performances (especially the one by Alan Arkin) are enough to overcome a couple of deficiencies, and writer/director Bruno Barreto is right in thinking this is a story that needs to be told.
Based on the book "What's Up, Comrade?" by Brazilian journalist Fernando Gabeira, the movie is about Gabeira's involvement with the underground revolutionary group MR-8 and how he and some other idealistic young students kidnapped the U.S. ambassador to Brazil in 1969.
Gabeira (Pedro Cardoso) and his comrades — including the no-nonsense leader Maria (Fernanda Torres) and the shy Renee (Claudia Abreu) — actually manage to pull off some daring robberies (which they term "revolutionary exploration") to help fund the organization's activities.
But they find themselves in the big leagues with their next caper — the abduction of U.S. Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick (Arkin) — which makes them the most wanted people in the country and which has dire circumstances for all involved.
The young guerrillas are also placed under the supervision of two terrorism experts, who clash with the brilliant but bumbling Gabeira and who threaten to make the situation more violent. And some of the younger kidnappers begin to take pity on Elbrick during the four-day ordeal.
As mentioned, the cast is very good, especially Arkin, who never resorts to histrionics, and Cardoso, who conveys a very quiet intelligence.
However, they're undermined slightly by erratic storytelling, including the decision to briefly shift the spotlight onto the secret servicemen assigned to find the kidnappers — a side story that mutes the tense atmosphere and which isn't very interesting or involving.
"Four Days in September" is rated R for use of profane language, violent gun fights, torture, brief glimpses of some nude photos and a few vulgar references.