Real-Life Hostage Thriller 24 Days Could Use More Humanity


Alexandre Arcady’s thriller 24 Days follows the true-life 2006 kidnapping and ransom of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man living in Paris. This crime provoked public fears of anti-Semitism in France as the trial of its key perpetrator, Youssouf Fofana, was sensationalized in the press (an eventual 24 conspirators were convicted). Drawing from a memoir about the ordeal written by Halimi’s mother, Ruth Halimi, Arcady bypasses the trial and ensuing media frenzy, focusing instead on the protracted hostage negotiations.

We don’t learn much about Ilan before he disappears, although an opening scene paints him as young, handsome, and a bit babied by his mother. Arcady spends more time with a team of stone-faced detectives and Halimi’s stricken family, as they endure excruciating phone calls from the kidnappers. In this chaos, Ruth (Zabou Breitman) becomes merely another moving part, immobilized by grief and sworn to secrecy by the investigation team.

The greatest affront to her maternal agony comes from the team’s professional negotiator, played with chilly elegance by Sylvie Testud, whose dispassionate adherence to protocol nevertheless offers the greatest hope for Ilan’s survival. Would that the film had explored such emotional contradictions in greater detail, but this retelling is more concerned with black-and-white morality, which drains it of suspense. Played by Tony Harrisson, Fofana is a snarling cartoon villain and feels no more real. Within the complex dance of the negotiations, his bestial simplicity is unnerving — not only because it paints the possibility of real evil, but because it adds a twist of racial bias to the eventual delivery of justice.

When thoughtlessness and evil in humanity are evident, why can’t an evil person be human?