Anthony Hopkins in James Ivory’s The City of Your Final Destination

There was a time when a new picture from Merchant Ivory was an event, but the latest (and the first since the death of Ismail Merchant) has quietly flown in under the radar. It’s just as well because The City of Your Final Destination, which opened in New York last week and debuts in Los Angeles today is a lovely, literate, unassuming, character and mood-based film that is probably best enjoyed without the weight of hype and expectation.

Omar is a young American academic whose future depends on writing an authorized biography of Jules Gund, a noted author descended from expatriate Germans living in Uruguay. When the estate of the deceased Gund denies authorization, Omar’s ambitious fiancé Deirdre convinces him to fly down to Uruguay uninvited in the hope he can win the family over and secure the permission he needs.

Ensconced within the family estate, a moldering though still elegant European refuge on the jungle outskirts of civilization, Omar finds Jules’ brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins), Adam’s lover Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada), the widow Caroline (Laura Linney), the mistress Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Arden’s child Portia. It’s a cozy set-up, but it turns out that the familial front of resistance is far from united. Caroline who sees no value in airing out family laundry is the most strongly opposed. She’s irritated by the interloping Omar, but at the same time she’s intrigued by the breath of fresh air he brings with him. Though Caroline has cowed the innocent Arden into following her wishes, Arden is immediately attracted to Omar and might be vulnerable to a change of heart. Adam meanwhile appears happy to have a bit of controversy and excitement. He also sees the biography as a way to extend his brother’s relevance and to keep the royalties flowing. Perhaps there’s some way Omar can play these competing agendas off each other and give everyone what they want while also securing the authorization upon which his professional life depends.

Written by Merchant Ivory familiar Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the 2002 novel by Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination strikes a breezily comic note with it’s sharply written dialogue, but it’s also infused with a strong current of melancholy. There’s a real sense that the Gund family is winding down. Sealed off in a decaying colonial bubble that might be as much of a trap as it is a sanctuary, the spark has gone out of their lives. They’re feeding off of each other and off of past glories without realizing they’ve been standing still – that is until Omar arrives.

Somewhat lightly plotted, Destination derives much of its energy from this curious mix of humor and sadness and both are enhanced by the beautiful cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe (Vicky Cristina Barcelona). What really brings the film to life however are the performances. Hopkins is maybe a little too effortless in his portrayal of the mischievous Adam, but he’s always entertaining to watch. Gainsbourg is perfect as the waify and childlike Arden and her character provides just the right contrast to the cold and sarcastic Linney as Caroline. She’s like a cat toying with her prey, her words and her wit are her claws. Linney digs into this ice queen and delivers the fireworks (especially when Omar’s equally determined fiancé shows up) while also finding the human being underneath. The film is worth seeing for her alone.

In the end, The City of Your Final Destination might not be as robust as some of Merchant Ivory’s past glories, but it’s an intimate, languidly paced pleasure brought to life by some terrific performances. It’s probably too early in the year for it to be remembered come awards season, but Laura Linney is deserving of recognition.

The City of Your Final Destination. UK 2010. Directed by James Ivory. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the novel by Peter Cameron. Cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe. Music score composed by Jorge Drexler. Edited by John David Allen. Starring Omar Metwally, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Hiroyuki Sanada, Alexandra Maria Lara, Morma Aleandro and Ambar Mallman. 1 hour 54 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13 for a brief sexual situation with partial nudity. 4 stars (out of 5)

3 Responses to “Review: The City of Your Final Destination (2010) ****”

  1. Nice review. I want to like this film. I also want to be able to remember the name of it–for some reason I can never remember it, and when I see the name, I never remember that this is the film it’s attached to. Maybe having read your review, I’ll finally get it right.

    Laura Linney is always deserving of awards recognition. She could deserve an Oscar for brushing her teeth, if only they had a category for it.

  2. Geez, talk about coincidence, this one REALLY takes the cake. I just got in my house (I must leave in another hour to head out to a rather far destination for a Saturday evening wedding for a friend) after watching a 1:00 P.M. showing of THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION at the Montclair multiplex.

    Yes Laura Linney is excellent, but I found little else here to get excited about. This is an oblique film with shoddy pacing, and little to connect with either narratively or emotionally. I feel sorry for the great veteran screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whose most listless work this is, and for Anthony Hopkins, who is wasted, but mostly for James Ivory, whose work here is a minor footnote in a career that includes some truly great films (THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, MAURICE, HOWARDS END, A ROOM WITH A VIEW, MR. & MRS. BRIDGE). This is as you say a literate, lovely and mood-based film, but virtually all of this iconic team’s work is. The difference is that this one has anemic narrative underpinnings, is overlong, and “events” do not connect with each other, resulting is poor narrative flow.

    Nonetheless, this is an exceptional and passionate review and I am envious of your moderate love for the film, much as I wanted to love it badly.

    Seeing that James Ivory continues to present his film with the “Merchant-Ivory” moniker with his famed partner now gone, is very moving.

  3. No worries Sam. You’re well in line with the prevailing critical opinion of the film.

    I can’t say I’m proud to share company with Rex Reed and Pete Friggin Hammond, but there it is.

    As I said above, it’s not as robust as the films you mention and I’m totally ok with that. The prevailing mood, the photography and the performance by Linney are enough for me.

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