Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, Guest of Honour is an ambitious, thought-provoking and, at times, muddled exploration of the nature of guilt, shame and the dangers of keeping our secrets. Guest of Honour tells the story of Jim (David Thewlis), a health inspector whose daughter, Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), has recently been convicted of a crime. Although Jim remains steadfast in his belief that she’s innocent, his efforts to reduce her sentence are hampered by her stubborn refusal to cooperate with him.
As one of Canada’s finest directors, Egoyan continues to show that he is not merely interested in exploring the actions of his characters, but also the depth of their motivation. While the script can get bogged down under the weight of its own ambition in places, Guest proves to be a compelling and complex journey held together by solid performances by its stars. While De Oliveira does a solid job as the damaged Veronica, it’s Thewlis that truly anchors the film, playing Jim with a quiet rage and burdened discontent.
With Guest, Egoyan again moves beyond the circumstances of his characters, using prison as a metaphor for how our anger and self-abuse can keep us from experiencing freedom from the hurts of our past. While Veronica has been convicted and incarcerated, it is clear from the outset that she also fully believes that she deserves the maximum punishment possible for her crimes. For her, prison has become a burden that is primarily self-inflicted, leaving little opportunity for hope.
Meanwhile, through Veronica remains trapped in her own personal (and physical) prison, Jim finds himself caught between standards of justice and his desire to offer grace. To those in the restaurant business, Jim remains the epitome of the law. Yet, at the same time, Jim’s desire for his daughter remains for her liberty. In the greatest of ironies, Jim, who epitomizes justice in his line of work, fights for his daughter’s life through eyes of grace.
Guest of Honour is currently playing at the Toronto International Film Festival. For more screenings, click here.