Deep char­ac­ter study asks big ques­tions

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Reviews - By John Bei­fuss

bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

As thought­ful, cal­cu­lated, somber and cold as a heav­ily foot­noted term pa­per, “Ado­ra­tion” is the first film by Cana­dian writer-di­rec­tor Atom Egoyan to get a Mem­phis the­atri­cal book­ing since the heart­break­ing “The Sweet Here­after” in 1998.

Like that ear­lier movie, “Ado­ra­tion” could be de­scribed as an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a tragedy, but in this case the dis­as­ter that in­spires the drama is a mix of re­al­ity and fan­tasy, as a high school stu­dent (Devon Bo­stick) is en­cour­aged by his Le­banese the­ater teacher (Egoyan’s wife, the strik­ing Arsi­nee Khan­jian) to con­coct a fact-based ter­ror­ism fa­ble that cir­cles back to bite its mak­ers when it goes vi­ral via the In­ter­net.

In his clumsy, in­cip­i­ent way, the stu­dent is a born sto­ry­teller, which is to say an artist. “Why would you make peo­ple feel all those things if it wasn’t even true?” an an­gry adult asks the boy, and it’s a ques­tion that Egoyan seems to be di­rect­ing at him­self. Why does an artist cre­ate fan­tasy sit­u­a­tions and char­ac­ters to in­spire feel­ings of sor­row, ter­ror and joy? Is a fic­tional tale less wor­thy of our full emo­tional in­vest­ment than a real-life re­port of hor­ror? If it’s not, is art re­demp­tive or danger­ous?

The movie sug­gests many other Big Ques­tions about re­li­gion, mem­ory, fam­ily, pur­pose. A mys­te­ri­ous woman in a burka haunts the film, and the script con­tains ref­er­ences to Beth­le­hem and 9/11. “If ev­ery life was pre­cious, the world would not be able to sus­tain it­self,” as­serts one char­ac­ter.

The per­for­mances of the ac­tors are im­pec­ca­ble, but their faces pro­vide this rather dull and un­con­vinc­ing story with its only vis­ual in­ter­est. The movie feels like an adap­ta­tion of an in­trigu­ing but pre­ten­tious novel that should have been left on the page.

“Ado­ra­tion” is play­ing ex­clu­sively at Malco’s Ridge­way Four.

Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics

Arsi­nee Khan­jian is a drama teacher who en­cour­ages stu­dent Devon Bost­wick to con­coct a tale of ter­ror­ism in Atom Egoyan’s “Ado­ra­tion.”

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