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Anthony Hopkins in THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION (Photo: Juan Quirno/Merchant Ivory Productions)

Directed by
James Ivory
Produced by
Paul Bradley & Pierre Proner
Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the novel by Peter Cameron
Released by Merchant Ivory
USA. 118 min. Rated PG-13
Laura Linney, Anthony Hopkins, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Omar Metwally & Alexandria Maria Lara 

Although he made his name with stuffy costume dramas based on novels like Howard’s End, Maurice, and The Golden Bowl, director James Ivory also tackles contemporary books like Slaves of New York and Le Divorce. The City of Your Final Destination, his newest film (and the first since the death of his longtime producer Ismail Merchant) is based on a 2002 novel by Peter Cameron with a script by his frequent collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. So it's dismaying to see this handsome-looking film puttering along without much to distinguish it.

Omar Razaghi, a university doctoral candidate, receives a grant to write a biography of recently-deceased novelist Jules Gund, only to be blocked by the writer’s estate, which comprises his widow, brother, and mistress. Prodded by his girlfriend and fellow academic Deirdre, Omar travels to the Ocho Rios estate in Uruguay to confront Gund's family.

Upon arriving, Omar has to deal with competing interests: the widow, pragmatic Caroline, refuses to give her permission; Jules' brother Adam leans toward agreeing that a biography could only help the writer's posthumous reputation; and Jules' mistress, the introspective Arden, initially agrees with Caroline but becomes swayed by Omar.

The bulk of the film plays out on the Gund estate, where cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe deserves accolades for his lush but not overly ripe photography (the film was shot in Argentina). But Ivory and Jhabvala do little with promising material, presenting Omar and his antagonists in scenes that lack wit or drama. Infrequent attempts at symbolism are too obvious. That Omar enters a hornets’ nest at Ocho Rios is a given. Getting stung by bees in a ridiculously misconceived sequence smacks of overkill. Of course, the stinging and Omar's subsequent coma are necessary to bring Deirdre to Uruguay to get involved with his attempts to persuade Caroline, Adam, and Arden.

That none of these relationships fully convinces is a fault of the egregious miscasting of Omar Metwally in the lead role of Omar. Aside from his first name, Metwally has little in common with a supposedly charming and intelligent would-be biographer. A lightweight actor, Metwally lacks onscreen presence and certainly cannot match up to the heavyweights Ivory cast opposite him. Anthony Hopkins habitually overplays understatement, but here it pays off in his exuberant turn as Adam. Charlotte Gainsbourg makes Arden sympathetic without sentimentalizing her, and Alexandria Maria Lara does what she can with the severely underwritten role of Deirdre.

Topping everyone is an incandescent Laura Linney, whose brittle and secretive Caroline is naturally acerbic. Whenever she speaks, the vinegar pours forth, and whenever she’s on screen, this meek film becomes tougher and more grownup. Even so, Linney's persuasive performance only partially redeems an insufficiently penetrating character study. Kevin Filipski
April 16, 2010



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