Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist) and Alexandra Maria Lara (Adolf Hitler's secretary in Downfall) are excellent supporting players in director James Ivory's The City of Your Final Destination, a well-shot drama that lacks emotional punch.
Younger-than-he-looks Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally) is a 28-year-old college literature professor stuck in a rut. The film appropriately opens to find Razaghi knee-deep in quicksand after losing the dog that goes with the house he is sitting. Soon after, he receives word that the trustees to late-author Jules Gund's estate have refused to grant Razaghi permission to write a biography on the man. Fearing that both his career and relationship with unpleasant girlfriend Deirdre (Lara) ride on getting the authorization, Razaghi travels to Uruguay to win over Gund's family.
At Ocho Rios, Razaghi meets the three trustees: Gund's brother, Adam (Hopkins); wife, Caroline (Linney); and mistress, Arden Langdon (Gainsbourg). Caroline is adamantly against Razaghi's project, fearing a book detailing the family's unconventional living situation would cause her further pain and embarrassment. As the days pass, Razaghi bonds with Adam and Arden and realizes he must write about Gund's family in order to adequately portray the author.
The City of Your Final Destination is a Merchant Ivory Film - director Ivory previously worked with Hopkins on Howards End - with a screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The film was shot in 2007 but did not receive a U.S. theatrical release until early 2010. After shooting wrapped, Hopkins sued Merchant Ivory, alleging that he never received his salary.
Beautifully shot and scored, The City of Your Final Destination is well-crafted but only moderately compelling. Few of the film's characters have any real depth, and Razaghi is not particularly convincing as a main character or source of conflict. Razaghi may be growing tired of Deirdre's nagging sensibility, but no deep reason is given for why he is willing to risk his career on the biography. Gund's literary popularity is another problem. The author only wrote one novel, The Gondola, about his parents' life and escape from Nazi Germany, and viewers are asked to believe it was popular enough to fund the family's massive estate.
While Gund is long-dead, his life and legacy are relived, for better or worse, through his family in the film's strongest scenes. Gund devastated Caroline by bringing a 15-year-old Arden to live at the estate, and Adam similarly brought a young boy who would later become his lover. Caroline, hardened and without the means to start a new life, refuses to allow any of the family's land to be developed for commercial use. Arden does not realize she is lonely until Razaghi shows up at her door.
The film's supporting players turn in strong performances, especially Hopkins and Gainsbourg, but Metwally never rises to the occasion. His delivery often feels overly rehearsed, and because neither the script nor the actor shed much light onto Razaghi's past, it is easy to be ambivalent about his success. The film is leisurely paced at 118 minutes and lacks high drama, but it never becomes an unpleasant sit.
With an excellent cast and a talented production team, one might expect The City of Your Final Destination to be more memorable. Unfortunately, the lack of a strong central character with whom to identify undermines the film's emotional pull. It is enjoyable enough to watch the characters sit around chatting over champagne in the beautiful Latin American countryside, but it all means very little.
Screen Media presents the film in a pleasant but imperfect 1.78 widescreen presentation. The film's beautiful cinematography is displayed well, and the bold colors of Uruguay pop off the screen. Detail varies between excellent and mediocre, as some shots are noticeably soft. Blacks are appropriately deep and night scenes look good, although an early scene indoors gets somewhat lost in shadows. No excessive edge enhancement or grain manipulation is present. Overall, the transfer's biggest flaw is an occasional lack of detail.
The film's 5.1 Dolby Digital track will not test your home theater's ability, but it is solid. Dialogue is clear and well-balanced, and outdoor sound effects occasionally drift into the surround speakers. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track and English subtitles are also available.
Only two extras appear on the disc. The first is director James Ivory's scene-specific commentary, which runs about 25 minutes. Ivory talks about filming in Latin America and Colorado and details some changes he would make if he shot the film again. Ivory also responds to some criticism of the film, offering explanations for certain scenes and plot points. The commentary is not overly informative, and Ivory comes off, perhaps rightly, as a little self-assured. A 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette features interviews with the actors and crew interspersed with scenes from the film. This extra provides some solid footage of the 82-year-old director at work.
The City of Your Final Destination has the pedigree of a winner but never quite lives up to its potential. An excellent supporting cast provides an enjoyable look at one man's broken family, but the film's central character and aspiring biographer is simply along for the ride. Merchant Ivory fans may want to purchase the film when it is on sale, everyone else should Rent It.