From the late ’80s onwards, Canadian-Armenian Atom Egoyan established a much-admired celluloid reputation with a string of intoxicatingly enigmatic dramas exploring the mythologies of his messed-up characters. While 1997’s ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ looked like a breakthrough, working on a broader canvas proved not to be his forte, so ‘Adoration’ marks a long-awaited return to the territory identifiable as ‘an Atom Egoyan film’. Hence the presence of his muse, Arsinée Khanjian, as a French teacher in a Toronto high school who has her reasons for choosing as a translation exercise a news item about an Arab terrorist who planted explosives in the airline luggage of his pregnant girlfriend. Student Devon Bostick, meanwhile, claims the would-be bomber was his own father: his classmates soon have online chat rooms buzzing, yet Bostick’s investment in the story is his way of working through a very different, uniquely troubled family history.
So is the old Egoyan mojo still working? It’s a mixed bag. The themes are fascinating and perceptive, musing on the exterior and interior influences shaping our identity, while pondering whether the restorative meanings we seek from people and places in our lives are complicated by the white noise of user-generated content and the presence of post-9/11 ideological tensions. Unfortunately the elaborately unspooled plot delivering these ideas in dramatic form is so scraggy and effortful it defeats the cast and rather compromises our involvement. Egoyan still conjures up epiphanic moments, but this is best recommended to those for whom the words ‘Speaking Parts’ stir a quiver of auteurist anticipation.