Adoration (2009) dir. Atom Egoyan
Starring: Devon Bostick, Scott Speedman, Arsinee Khanjian
I am a big Atom Egoyan fan, which extends even beyond flag waving patriotism. Even his recent lesser-regarded films, “Where the Truth Lies”, “Felicia's Journey” dug into me and struck a chord. With “Adoration” it’s Egoyan again, his trademark multi-layered elliptical style with a peculiar story about a teenager’s conflicts reconciling the death of his parents. If this were another filmmaker’s film, I’d might call it a triumph of tonal control and metaphorical storytelling, but with Egoyan, it's something we’ve seen before, but with more preciousness and with lesser emotional punch.
Devon Bostick plays Simon, a high school student who lives with his ner-do-well, older brother Tom (Scott Speedman). We’re told by his ailing grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) that his father was a despicable man that had something to do his mother’s death. We also see, a recurring flashback at an Israeli airport customs desk where Simon’s mom (Rachel Blanchard) has problems attempting to enter Israel.
Meanwhile, Simon’s teacher Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian) convinces him to enter a drama show and pretend that his father was a terrorist and tried to heinously sacrifice his mother by planting a bomb in her luggage. Stay with me here… It seems like innocent deception until Simon posts his false story over the internet causing a huge fervour amongst the family. Slowly Sabine’s motivations are revealed and a dramatic connection to Simon outside of school emerges.
I can only gather that the purpose of the story structure is to confuse the audience, and eventually unravel the truth from the lies. It’s an hallmark of all Egoyan’s films – often jumping timelines to strategically unveil the emotion of the story. Unfortunately it doesn’t work with “Adoration.”
We are fed blatant lies and false truths for no other the reason than to confuse us. In the first half we actually believe Simon’s dad was actually a terrorist - or maybe we do know and I was the only one in the theatre confused - I doubt it. Deceiving the characters is one thing, purposely lying to the audience is dangerous. Having bought into this dramatic bombshell magically erasing that plot point is an unfair dupe of our emotional investment.
I reviewed Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist” yesterday, and there’s some commonality in why both films don't work. Like Anderson's film, "Adoration's" 'story-guts' is contained in a truth, which is held back from the audience. With “The Machinist’s” Trevor Resnick character, he knows the truth, but his own mind is masking it. There's is little drama in the journey of either character, instead overweighted by its eventual twist reveal.
If anything, I enjoyed the performance of Scott Speedman who has said he aggressively pursued his role which was originally written for an older man. Speedman's instincts were right as his relationship with his brother, a paternal role he forced himself into, becomes the most interesting aspect of the film - a successful dramatic shift for Speedman into Cannes-worthy art house cinema.