Atom Egoyan can be a tough filmmaker to get your head around. His 2008 film Adoration grazes some weighty topics--terrorism, xenophobia, exploitation of tragedy--but when you boil it down, it's about what all of his films are about: the precarious nature of the truth, and the tricky mining of the past in an arguably vein attempt to attain said truth.
In Adoration, Egoyan again tells his story in the fractured, circular style that has become his signature (his previous films include Exotica, Ararat, and his masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter). Nothing is definite; characters and incidents are glimpsed instead of explained; important scenes are spread out over the course of an entire narrative, gradually revealing dribbles of additional information; long-held secrets are held in confidence until the last possible moment. His methodology can, frankly, be a little maddening.
The mere nature of his storytelling makes summarizing his screenplays next to impossible; of this one, I will say that it involves a young student (Devon Bostick) who has lived with his uncle (Scott Speedman, in a serious actor beard) since the death of his parents (Rachel Blanchard and Noam Jenkins). One day, he tells his French class a story about how his father tried to use his mother to smuggle an explosive device onto a transcontinental flight. It is not surprising that the story has ramifications; what is unexpected is how far they reach, up to and including the boy's teacher (Arsinee Khanjian).
More than that I cannot divulge. Egoyan is not a filmmaker for all tastes; at times, his hide-and-seek style can be downright exasperating, and the question must be asked of his work that is asked of anyone working with fractured timelines and circular storytelling: is it a gimmick? Is this a story that would be as compelling if told straightforward, without all the structural trickery?
The answer, I believe, is yes. Egoyan's motives may not always be clear, but he is never purposefully confusing--he demands patience, sure, but does not take that patience for granted. Even when we're not sure exactly where we are, we're certain that we're in the hands of a skilled storyteller, and the picture works on a moment-to-moment basis; from its opening frames, the film is intriguing and atmospheric. Much of this is due to Paul Sarossy's excellent cinematography and yet another skilful Mychael Danna score, but Egoyan's a sure hand at sustaining mystery.
Some of his devices don't land. Several scenes involving the young man's interactions with friends and adults in web chat rooms don't fit at all; they play awkward and heavy-handedly, becoming easy vehicles for armchair didacticism. And as well-written as the film is (mostly), the elliptical dialogue is sometimes hard to engage with.
Performances are mostly strong. Rachel Blanchard (surprisingly good in Egoyam's earlier Where the Truth Lies) makes the most of her limited screen time. Neither Speedman nor Bostick is terribly showy, which is a good choice; they're most effective, though Bostick is sometimes a little too much of a blank slate (some of his line readings are too flat). Khanjian has the trickiest role of all, revealing everything and nothing simultaneously, and she plays it masterfully.
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
Sony's 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC presentation of Adoration is downright excellent; the subdued visual scheme wouldn't seem to benefit as much from an HD presentation, but the image is smooth, nicely detailed, and well-saturated. The shifting color temperatures of the various timelines--a golden glow for the romantic flashbacks, the lush greens of the recurring memory image first seen under the title, the washed-out documentary look of Speedman's work scenes--all come across beautifully, while skin tones are excellent and black levels are deep and even throughout.
The picture is a low-key, chatty affair, so the English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is pretty muted--dialogue is strong and clear in the center channel, with a smattering of effects and the well-modulated score in the front surrounds. The rear surrounds and LFE channel stay pretty quiet throughout, with the exception of a key moment towards the end that I wouldn't dream of revealing.
Spanish 5.1 and Portuguese 5.1 DTS HD-MA tracks are also available, as are English, English SDH, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
Extras are hit and miss. "The Making of Adoration" (12:00) crosscuts clips with Egoyan's thoughts on the themes and creation of the film and brief snippets of cast interviews. He elaborates on the film at greater length in the "Atom Egoyan Interview" section (22:54), while "The Violin Shop" (9:42) is a fly-on-the-wall portrait of the rehearsal and shooting of one key scene between the parent characters. Next is a segment on the film from the Al-Jazeera English TV show "The Fabulous Picture Show" (13:50), profiling Egoyan and showing him in a brief interview and conducting a Q and A with the show's studio audience.
Next are "Take Three" (20:26) and "Passengers" (19:30) which show some of the raw webcam footage; they're interesting curios, but I can't imagine who'd want to sit through them. Six Deleted Scenes follow; all are interesting additions, though their exclusions for length are understandable. Several other Sony trailers, plus the appropriately mysterious Theatrical Trailer (1:52) close out the bonus features.
The 50GB disc is also BD-Live enabled, though no additional extras specific to Adoration were available at the time of review.
Adoration has its share of problems, but Atom Egoyan remains one of our most fascinating, challenging directors. His storytelling quirks and stylistic indulgences may irritate less patient viewers, but those who turn themselves over to this film may find themselves richly rewarded.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.