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Guest of Honour Review

No matter what he appears in, I’m convinced that David Thewlis can turn the most asinine and mundane of performances into genuine perfection. His role in the latest Atom Egoyan directed film, Guest of Honour, as a health inspector with a disgraced family, is one such moment that finds us in a film that hasn’t quite got the narrative strengths to muster up overall competence, but is saved tremendously well by Thewlis. My first feature experience with Egoyan sees him tap into the deception at the heart of his clunky, but acceptable and well-paced story, as a woman wrongfully indicted for a sexual assault wishes to remain in prison, whilst her father attempts to uncover the truth.

There’s a weird feeling of disconnect between the narrative Thewlis takes on as Jim, and the central plot following Veronica (Laysla De Oliviera). Much of the story is told in recollection or fluttering flashbacks in a conversation between Veronica, freshly released from prison, and Father Greg (Luke Wilson), who are both there to prepare the funeral arrangements for Jim. All of this is unravelled to us in more or less the opening moments of the film, the story here, you would think, is bursting at the seams. So much to be explored and utilised, but that just isn’t the case for Guest of Honour, which takes its time in building up a relatively competent story.

It’s not the best on the whole, a story that dithers around its more prominent scenarios and all but dies out by the final moments of the film. But the characters to be found in this story do feel grounded and realistic, believability is key here and Guest of Honour does manage to make, on the most part, scenarios and people who don’t feel disconnected from the reality Egoyan crafts. Murky surroundings, almost seedy at times, especially the restaurants and shopping centres Jim visits. His qualifications, drive, and goals always feel like they’re questionable and dubious, never knowing when he’s sincere or conniving. These revelations are made sincerely and well, making up for a rather clunky narrative featuring Veronica’s lead-up to imprisonment.

While the character study unfolds rather successfully throughout Guest of Honour, how its contrived mystery and heightened melodrama gets us there is rather underwhelming. Twists, turns, and the expectedly discontented lover, a flimsy love triangle is presented for Veronica’s arc. It never interacts or muses on Jim’s storyline, and the two are kept separate, only coming together by happenstance. That these two leading characters are related feels more a coincidence than anything else, and I can appreciate the style of narrative there, where two characters who are related have completely different stories to tell. But glueing them together at the last moment feels like a cop-out of what could’ve been some very interesting pacing.

Guest of Honour has the charm and confidence necessary to tell its story with resounding strength. It’s not the greatest piece of entertainment out there, nor is it the most competent of modern melodrama, but its leading performances from Thewlis and Oliviera are more than enough to craft a wholly engaging narrative. Well-directed, with good camerawork and technical merits found in a majority of scenes, alongside some solid performances that make a rather clunky narrative, falling a bit short of greatness, but still well worth investing time into.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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