Adoration (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

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film_adoration_sm.jpgNone of Atom Egoyan's efforts that followed came close to matching The Sweet Hereafter's brilliance.






Sustaining momentum in a single film is hard enough, but trying to do the same for an entire career is near impossible. In the 1990s, Atom Egoyan seemed destined to become one of the most important voices in international cinema and the best filmmaker to emerge from our neighbors of the north. While the latter may still be true, Egoyan has been struggling to remain relevant since Felicia's Journey in 1999. Amassing a small but enthusiastic cult following after films like Family Viewing and The Adjuster, the director scored his first international sensation with 1994's Exotica, a nonlinear tale of loss surrounding the inhabitants of a Toronto strip club. He followed Exotica in 1997 with The Sweet Hereafter, an adaptation of Russell Banks' novel about a town coping with a fatal school bus accident and a film I would, without any hesitation, rank among the five best films of the '90s. Unfortunately following that, none of Egoyan's efforts that followed came close to matching The Sweet Hereafter's brilliance.

Adoration is another letdown (though I remain one of the few people who quite liked Ararat). Surrounding a strange social experiment that's defended as an exercise in "drama," teenage Simon (Devon Bostick), under the direction of his French teacher Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian, wife of the director), presents a monologue to the class that he passes as truth. The speech comes from the perspective of a child in utero whose mother is the innocent victim of the child's terrorist father's failed plan to blow up a plane. To test the boundaries of the experiment, Simon pretends this is true; the fact that his parents (Rachel Blanchard, Noam Jenkins) died together in a car accident years before helps this deception. Word spreads quickly via several heated Internet video chats, and both Simon and Sabine begin to realize they've gotten in over their heads.

Structurally and thematically, Adoration is typical Egoyan. It's structured like a puzzle, though Egoyan has never used the framing of his story as a gimmick. The film cuts between its real-time story and images of the time before Simon's parents died. His mother is a skilled violinist; his uncle Tom (a fantastic Scott Speedman), who took care of Simon after the accident, seems emotionally crippled by Simon's arrogant grandfather (Kenneth Walsh, just as creepy here as he was on Twin Peaks). Through the fragmented narrative, Egoyan weaves a number of familiar scenarios (he has always been fascinated by airport customs) and ideas (a character's search for himself through a handheld camera), but Adoration never feels seamless or fluid, like The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica did.

Egoyan poses enough hot-button questions to keep Adoration going, but the film never seems to prove itself more than just a provocation. After Sarah Polley's amazing performance in The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan has never been able to recreate that with any of the young actors he's placed at the center of his films. Bostick is, in several scenes, quite bad, and even the director's muse Khanjian occasionally feels awkward. These two wobbly performances are likely indicative of Egoyan's own admirable, disappointing hereafter, built on small reminders of the beauty that's come before it. | Joe Bowman

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