As Atom Egoyan walked into Cinema 8 at Park Lane Cineplex last night, I steeled myself. I promised myself after the screening, I’d shake the hand of the man whose works have meant to much to me over the years.
Egoyan is a Canadian director who has endured for decades, serving us the Oscar-nominated classic The Sweet Hereafter, and such eclectic gems as Chloe, Where The Truth Lies, The Adjuster, and his incredible last project Remember.
But when the Q&A started in the aftermath of his latest, Guest Of Honour, I slithered out. I couldn’t shake the hand of one of my film industry heroes knowing how heavily disappointed I was by his new movie. It felt disingenuous.
I’ve held on with Egoyan through highs and lows as the often-polarizing director has pushed through the Hollywood jungle. I even found the good in universally-canned The Captive, a Ryan Reynolds-starring film about Stockholm Syndrome. But Guest Of Honour is so convoluted — so contrived — I find myself struggling to be an apologist for it.
I wish Egoyan’s latest had of been a pitch-black comedy about the horrors of lead David Thewliss, whose character Jim works as a health inspector. Instead, told mostly through jarring flashbacks, we’re told about his relationship with his daughter Veronica, in jail for a sexual assault she knows she did not commit.
She’s repenting, albeit not for this illusion of a sin. She has a seedy past she feels she must atone for, and it unravels throughout the film. The problem is that as we follow the string, it lead to an unwieldy, tangled mess instead of some conclusion worth striving for.
David Thewliss in incredible, and he’s the best part of the film, even if the script fails him. Even Luke Wilson, as a pastor hearing this story, fails to maintain his breezy on-screen persona. He looks like he’s being challenged at every turn, grappling as much with the confusing material as we are.
Atom Egoyan is a brilliant director, with style and substance to spare. But as Guest Of Honour is infused with his signature flair and trademarks, it’s as if he forgot to add even a dash of tangibility.