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Held For Ransom


‘…an exhaustive, harrowing but very worthwhile film…’

Here’s a tough sell; a 148 minute long true story about Daniel Rye – the last Western hostage to be released alive by the Islamic State after 13 months in captivity. That kind of punishing length might put off potential audiences; even as a critic, there’s some trepidation in getting into a subject like this for such a long time. And yet, the events depicted in Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen’s film, adapted from a book by Puk Damsgaard, are credible, convincing, and could happen to any of us; is it really too much to ask for two hour plus of our time to understand the detail of this shocking true story?

Played with harrowing intensity by Esben Smed, Danish photojournalist Daniel Rye started out as a gymnast before an injury wastes the six years of preparation he’s put in. Rye drifts into photojournalism, and ends up in Syria; anyone whose been to a war zone will know that it attracts those with a darkness within, and Rye’s bitter experience seem to have put a hard edge on his desire for work. Rye is kidnapped by ISIS, and a ransom is demanded; while the Danish government refuse to negotiate with terrorists, Rye’s family scramble to (illegally) crowd-fund the cash, and a hostage negotiator attempts to keep the communication channels open…

Held For Ransom is admirable for its forensic detail about Rye’s treatment, government insensitivity and familial angst; the elements of torture are depicted, but there’s a much wider scope to cover. In the second half of the film, Rye meets American James Foley while in captivity, and Toby Kebbell does a terrific job of bringing this tragic figure to life. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Foley was a real person too, and one who was beheaded on camera by ISIS. The way that Held for Ransom is constructed, Foley’s story becomes as import as Rye’s, and the final scenes are very much about remembering Foley, while Rye’s re-connection to his girlfriend is related by a simple end-credits card.

What people do to each other in war is unspeakable; Held For Random pulls no punches, and it’s notable how each and every character has a speech ready offering their justifications for what they do. Held to Ransom doesn’t attempt to suggest solutions; it’s an exhaustive, harrowing but very worthwhile film that should make you feel glad you’ll hopefully never have to experience the pain shown here. In a uniformly excellent cast, Smed and Kebbell both do excellent work here, and if you can handle the subject matter, this is a sobering film on the most serious of subjects.

Thanks to Samuel Goldwyn Films for advanced access.

Held For Ransom is out now (Oct 2021) in the US in cinemas and on streaming.

Links below.

Held For Ransom


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  1. Worthy is a hard sell and harrowing an even harder one. Had never heard of this so thanks for bringing to my attention. Though this kind of serious movie seems to have gone right out of fashion these days.

            • It’s involved a lot of leaf blowing. The trees are divesting themselves if leaves. I blow them into piles with a leaf blower . Then more leaves fall and I do it again. That is the story of my week. Thank you for listening.

                • We got a second hand one for forty squid. You can blow leaves out of the gutters if you turn it up to full and don’t mind getting gutter water in your face. Rakes are so five minutes ago. Maybe I’ll post a picture of my leaf blower on masters of ironing to keep the momentum of the view counts up.

                  • I just looked, it’s been months since we heated up the irons. makes me feel almost nostalgic for those carefree days.

                    And gutter water is full of essential, all natural, elements that does a body good. Who needs milk and vitamins when you’ve got gutter water?

                    • I bathe in gutter water, room temperature every morning at six as part of my Iron John routine. Then an hour of semi-professional ironing and folding. And then I wrestle Shedley the cat until we pass out. It’s a man’s life.

                    • Glad you raised this, Shedley is very much back in the shed, don’t believe the hype. I was in the shed getting a spare kettle out because my mum’s has melted. FaCT!

                    • Glad you “ransomed” him back. (see what I did there? Pretty clever I’d say).

                      How can kettles melt? Aren’t they steel or something?

                    • You are quite the wordsmith.

                      The plastic window through which one views the level of water melted, leaving a hole through which red hit steam burns your hand. Not satisfactory.

                    • Dickens would envy my easy handling of the English language 😉

                      Man, they don’t make tea pots like they used to. I’d make a comment about teapots back in my day, but we never had any in our house, so I have nothing to compare. Maybe they’ve always been like that. I wonder if George Washington and William Wallace had to worry about the little plastic window melting on their teapots.

                      Somebody needs to do a documentary on this important issue…

                    • A kettle and a teapot are hardly the same thing, a teapot requires no power source, it is merely a receptacle for tea. FacT!

                    • You plug the kettle into the electricity supply and the element contained inside heats up, making the water hot. That is what a kettle is.

                    • Well, what do you know?!? I learned something new today. I had no idea.

                      No wonder GW and WW had such a tough time. I bet outlets were wicked hard to find…

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