If “Adoration” were a CD, it would be less a greatest-hits compilation and more a revisiting of early work by a musician who can’t seem to make the old songs sound as good as they used to.
Mixing together a panoply of themes that writer-director Atom Egoyan has previously pursued — including survivor’s guilt (“The Sweet Hereafter”), puzzle-box narrative (“The Adjuster”), communication technology exacerbating our inability to connect (“Family Viewing” and “Speaking Parts”), the toxic legacies of dysfunctional parenting (“Felicia’s Journey”) and violence fed by racism (“Ararat”) — “Adoration” nonetheless winds up feeling muted and muddled, a movie full of ideas and themes that never find a satisfying resolution.
It bears noting, of course, that third-rate Egoyan is better than much of what’s playing in theaters at any given time, so even if “Adoration” is a disappointment, it’s not a film to be dismissed out of hand.
We begin with Simon (Devon Bostick), a teenager telling his classmates about how his mother (Rachel Blanchard), pregnant with him at the time, was deceived by his Middle Eastern father (Noam Jenkins) into flying an Israel-bound plane with a carry-on bag full of explosives. His narrative is part of an assignment from his teacher Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian) and it soon develops a life of its own in internet chat rooms, starting with Simon’s fellow adolescents and then moving onward to the general public.
But why does Sabine encourage Simon to tell this story, which touches so many post-9/11 nerves? And how does it tie in to his relationship with Tom (Scott Speedman), the uncle who raised him after the death of his parents, and to Tom’s own messed up relationship with his recently deceased father Morris (Kenneth Walsh)?
To begin to unravel any of these threads is to give away the many secrets that unfold over the course of Egoyan’s story. What can be said, however, is that the ultimate revelation of these hidden connections and motivations doesn’t carry the narrative oomph that previous films from the Canadian director have achieved.
Video: ‘Star Trek’ worth the hype? “Adoration” is, if nothing else, a showcase for some terrific acting, particularly from two Canadian performers who rarely get the credit due them in the lower 48: Speedman, like Johnny Depp before him, continues to overcome his onetime teen-idol status (he set young girls’ hearts aflame on “Felicity”) by taking on challenging roles and giving raw and unsentimental performances. And while Khanjian seems to keep a fairly low profile off-screen, her film work continues to dazzle; she’s an exotic beauty in the mold of Isabella Rossellini, but she takes risks as boldly as anyone working in cinema today.
Egoyan will continue to make some of this generation’s most provocative and enduring films; “Adoration” just isn’t one of them.
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at http://www.twitter.com/MSNBCalonso.
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