Felicia's Journey
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenplay: Atom Egoyan, from the novel by William Trevor
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Peter McDonald
NY Distribution Status: opens 12 November 1999 (Artisan)

Grade: B-

"Crikey," I thought when Egoyan pulled off his adaptation of Russell Banks' potentially problematic monologue-novel The Sweet Hereafter with only one minor hitch, "this guy can do anything!" Alas, no: this time, after a prolonged and mighty struggle, the book got the better of him. The filmmaker takes an early lead, decisively winning the first several rounds via an elegant, discursive introduction to his two main characters; nothing much happens for the first half-hour or so (especially if you don't know, as I miraculously did not, which genre the film is working to subvert), but each shot is so arresting, and Egoyan is so evidently and thrillingly in control of the material, that restlessness is quite simply not an option. Only once the plot belatedly kicks in does Trevor's source begin to throw a few tentative jabs -- the flashbacks, in particular, become less impressionistic, more expository. Performances, meanwhile, are effectively a draw: Hoskins, once you get accustomed to the deliberate Brummie accent, is exceptionally fine, and has at least two moments that belong in the Kickass Thespian Hall of Fame (one of them among the most discomfiting instances of a character unexpectedly breaking the fourth wall that I can remember); Cassidy, on the other hand, has an expressive face but doesn't seem to know how to make use of it, and winds up being little more than appealingly blank. No quitter, Egoyan rallies furiously, working so hard to make an essentially literary concept visually compelling and structurally complex that the effort, I'm sorry to report, begins to reek of desperation. (Opinion is likely to be sharply divided re: Mychael Danna's busy, deliberately discordant score; I found its obtrusiveness surprisingly compelling, while my companion Charles François felt that it almost singlehandedly ruined the picture.) By the time our hero -- and we are all agreed that Egoyan is hands down the best filmmaker of our time, right? -- anyway, by the time our hero finally settles down, along about the final reel, he's clearly exhausted, and it takes little effort for the novel to score a technical knock-out via (a) an overwrought emotional climax that could only be effective in a reader's imagination; (b) a painfully predictable denouement (three guesses where Bob is heading, two don't count); and -- sigh, (c) -- an epilogue tainted by helpful explanatory narration in which key phrases from previous scenes are repeated for the comprehension-impaired. Ain't gonna be no rematch? Don't want one. Due respect, Atom: leave the books alone.