Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 08/01/09 09:59:00

"The Friction of Fiction"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Every film is its own exercise in manipulation. Even the most linear tale has to reveal certain details and specific characters in its own determined way, and while we may know that a genre formula will inevitably turn any given corner, we still need the direction, the writing, the acting and countless other elements to actually get us there. Some great filmmakers manage to manipulate audiences in subtle, discreet but ultimately effective ways, taking the seemingly obvious and making it new again because we as viewers let them and trust them to work wonders once we fork over our hard-earned dollar for a ticket and a seat. Others who operate more overtly with any manner of gimmickry – more often than not, a story told out of chronological order – are often subject to far more scrutiny, because we as viewers then run the risk of being jerked around for the sake of it, to no greater effect, enjoyment, or enlightenment. Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan has succeeded before at intertwining tragedies past and present with 'The Sweet Hereafter', evoking a much more substantial feeling of grief than the melodramatic story at its core might’ve had if told straight-forward, but over a decade later, Egoyan’s same bag of tricks serves him much less well with 'Adoration'.

Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian, or Mrs. Egoyan) is reading to her French students an article for them to translate, concerning a pregnant woman who was prevented from boarding a plane years ago when it was discovered that she was unwittingly carrying a bomb built by her boyfriend. Simon (Devon Bostick) asks his teacher if he could take that story and present it as if he had been that unborn child, as if those were his parents. For reasons to later be revealed (and no less frustrating once they are), she allows him to, and his sobering tale suddenly leaves the classroom and heads for the chat room, where everyone from anywhere takes issue with the manufactured scenario.

Whereas The Sweet Hereafter untangled the change of relationships in the wake of a school bus accident, Adoration’s inciting incident asks us to understand that both Sabine and Simon have their reasons for allowing this potentially provocative situation to play out, and yet the eventual revelations suggests that the logic of a grown woman and a seemingly smart teen can be held at bay by emotional agendas, and Egoyan is asking us to forgive them – and likewise the film – for pissing off a community of neighbors, and then strangers, in the name of ultra-personal ulterior motives that relate less to international terrorism and more to intergenerational xenophobia. As such, the sole remarkable performance is that of Scott Speedman as Simon’s sullen uncle and reluctant guardian, because he’s the only victim here who doesn’t serve as a dramatic device first and foremost.

It seems one and the same to complain that the filmmaker and his characters are complicit in exploiting lingering post-9/11 mistrust in the pursuit of fairly small-scale dot-connecting. Simon may be keen on starting a fire with his assignment, but in the end, it feels like Egoyan just wanted some ashes to sweep up.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.