Ever since I first saw David Thewlis glower his way through Mike Leigh’s gruelling kitchen-sink drama Naked (1993), he’s been one of my favorite actors. Expert at portraying edgy outsiders with a hint (or more) of malevolence, Thewlis (who was born just up the coast from me in Blackpool) improves every film he’s in — even things as lowly as Basic Instinct 2 (2006) — but he’s usually been deployed onscreen as a character actor.
Now screening via the Virtual Roxie, director Atom Egoyan’s Guest of Honour gives the actor the sort of meaty lead role he hasn’t had in years. Set in an unnamed Canadian city, the film details the tortuous and unpleasant family life of Jim (Thewlis), a starchy restaurant inspector who seemingly takes out his personal frustrations by closing down offending dining establishments. Are those rabbit ears? You’re closed!
Meanwhile, Jim’s daughter Veronica (Laysla de Oliveira), a high school music teacher, is doing time for a crime she didn’t actually commit. She’s also riven with guilt about the suicide of first love Walter (Gage Munroe), the son of childhood music teacher Alicia (Sochie Fried) — who, to Veronica’s eternal chagrin, engaged in an affair with Jim while his wife Rose (Tennille Read) slowly succumbed to cancer.
In short, it’s complicated, and Egoyan’s screenplay is frequently too baroque for its own good. There are some ridiculous coincidences and much of the plot revolves around some bad behavior by school bus driver Mike (Rossif Sutherland, son of Donald) that could best be described as ‘unlikely’.
Thanks to Thewlis, however, Guest of Honour works. There are few actors able to so cannily negotiate the line between audience sympathy and audience disgust, and he’s one of them: as cold and unlikable as Jim is, you’ll still find yourself hoping there’s a happy end awaiting him.
‘Where Sleeping Dogs Lie’: A good little caper flick
Where Sleeping Dogs Lie (now streaming on many of the usual platforms, including Apple TV and Vudu) is writer-director Josh Pierson’s first feature, and while it’s no classic it is a perfectly good little caper flick. Ethan Hawke lookalike Jesse Janzen headlines as Jim (yes, we have two Jims this week), a deep-in-debt lowlife who convinces brother (and failed used car salesman) Barry (Dustin Miller) and clueless chum Tim (Tommy Koponen) to help him pull off a heist that will allow him to pay off impatient creditor Bunny (Atim Udoffia). If you’re looking for a 90-minute time-waster, this is a good one.
‘Jeanne’ (‘Joan of Arc’): Puzzling
Finally, I don’t quite know what to make of Bruno Dumont’s Jeanne (Joan of Arc), currently screening as part of Pacific Film Archive’s Watch From Home series. If you can imagine a feudal-era Jacques Demy film with an electro-pop soundtrack and dressage shot Busby Berkeley style, you’re half way there. A sequel to an earlier film Dumont made about Joan’s childhood, the film stars ten-year old Lise Leplat Prudhomme, who plays the pint-sized saint-in-waiting as a petulant Violet Beauregarde type. The film’s lengthy trial sequence is good, the rest a bit puzzling.