While the non-linear structure of Guest of Honour makes for a more thrilling watch than if it had played out chronologically, the story can be uneven and unsatisfying in places.
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Buried underneath the convolutions, the mistaking of melodramatic sensationalism over psychological reality, there really is something of a real emotional centre that just about makes enduring the rest worth it.
A riveting but utterly ridiculous melodrama about the burden of guilt and the value of bunny shit, Atom Egoyan’s “Guest of Honour” layers one absurd turn on top of another with the confidence of a veteran architect, and yet — even at its most perversely entertaining — this very unpredictable movie only feels as if it’s working in spite of itself.
Guest of Honour feels like a failed attempt to tame the unwieldy story of a complicated novel. But in fact it's an original screenplay, which means Egoyan has gone out of his way to create the overly fussy structure, perhaps in a bid to lend the psychologically wobbly drama some weight.
At once overplotted and under-reasoned, hysterical and stiffly earnest, Guest of Honour is finally one of those strenuously diagrammatic mysteries in which everything notionally connects, which isn’t quite the same as everything making even marginal emotional sense.
The restaurant story is wonderfully taut, with Egoyan in full control of his always extravagant imagery.
Egoyan is so impatient to cut through to the emotional truth that he asks us to take on board a series of lazy contrivances that will test even the most forgiving viewer.
Thewlis keeps the film from sinking completely: the haunted, unhappy man resigned to his unjust burden of guilt and shame.
That makes Guest of Honour more unsatisfying than bad, more polished than it could be in many ways, but sloppy in ones that count — namely the script. It’s a textbook case of a “fascinating failure.”
I’m not convinced it amounts to any more than the sum of its parts, but the parts are intriguing – and some are possessed of real power.