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Caught in the Web, Where the Truth Lies

MOVIE REVIEW
Adoration (2009)

21
Sophie Giraud/Sony Pictures Classics

Atom Egoyan’s “Adoration” takes a powerful, simple subject and mucks up its exploration with elaborate stylistic complications and moments of pure over direction. At its core is the grief-stricken story tinged with guilt, of a teenager learning to cope with the accidental death of his parents years earlier. Mr. Egoyan transforms that narrative into a murky rendition of the seedier side of the Web, and hampers it through the high-concept development of a premise centered on a convoluted role-playing assignment taken on with gusto by the main character and a central figure in his life.

Devon Bostick stars as Simon, living with his blue-collar uncle Tom (Scott Speedman) in a suburb of Toronto. Through fractured chronology, Mr. Egoyan gradually reveals the circumstances that took Simon’s parents from him, and an unusual assignment given him by his French teacher (Arsinée Khanjian). After telling her class about a terrorist who hid a bomb in his American wife’s luggage with the intent of blowing up a full plane of passengers to Israel, she encourages Simon to apply the narrative to his own parents and tell the class the story as if it were his own. The lie is taken as truth, the story becomes a sensation, and Simon finds himself frequently engaged in Webcam arguments with total strangers driven to share their own views of his “mother” and “father.”

The film works best when its maker, an adept chronicler of the many manifestations of grief, keeps Simon’s story grounded on an unembellished, nakedly emotional plane. It begins as a jumble of obfuscations and half-baked ideas, but with the clarification of Simon’s mysterious behavior comes a way for viewers to dig through the artifice and find something relatable. “Adoration” recycles key elements of “The Sweet Hereafter,” in which Mr. Egoyan explored the heavy, lingering presence a monumental tragedy held over the town that experienced it, and it’s most effective when it brutally plumbs Simon’s subconscious before granting him (and us) a cathartic release.

Still, there’s a sense throughout of Mr. Egoyan groping to touch on broader themes and thus negatively impacting his narrative with discordant parts that don’t quite mesh. There’s a movie to be made about the function of the odd hybrid of anonymity and communality that underwrites the world of the Internet chat room. “Adoration” – which bogs down in long-winded discussions and amateurish theatrical monologues whenever it turns its focus to cyberspace – is not it.

Similarly, multiple films have effectively addressed the still pervasive specter of racism in modern society, or the healing powers of a vivid imagination. There’s no room for such explorations in this picture, however, riddled as it is with gloomy mood trappings and a steadfast seriousness that threatens to siphon out every last bit of human feeling. The film is, to be sure, a notable chapter in a visionary career, albeit one that would have been better served divided into three or four.

ADORATION

Opened on May 8 in Manhattan and on Jan. 29, 2010 in Britain.

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan; director of photography, Paul Sarossy; edited by Susan Shipton; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Phillip Barker; produced by Mr. Egoyan, Simone Urdl and Jennifer Weiss; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States) and New Wave Films (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. This film is rated R by MPAA and 15 by BBFC.

WITH: Arsinée Khanjian (Sabine), Scott Speedman (Tom), Rachel Blanchard (Rachel), Noam Jenkins (Sami), Devon Bostick (Simon) and Kenneth Welsh (Morris).

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