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Felicia's Journey was the closing film of this year's Galway Film Fleadh (Gaelic: Festival).Based on a story by Ireland's premiere short story writer William Trevor, Felicia's Journey is one of the most terrifying thrillers made this decade. So disturbed were some of the viewers that they refused to applaud the movie - "That was to freaky", said a local movie buff, "I didn't need to see that". The movie begins by fooling the audience. It starts as a bittersweet tale of a young Irish girl (Elaine Cassidy) who sleeps with a British Army soldier and is shunned by her family. She is exiled to Birmingham, England, where she meets Joe, a kindly old man (Bob Hoskins). So far, a pretty typical poignant Irish drama. Suddenly, some rapid editing and jolting images reveal that Joe ain't so sweet. In fact he's one of the most vicious, despicable psychopaths you'll ever seen on screen. The mood is extremely fearful for the remainder as Elaine Cassidy's perfect rendition of an innocent Irish Catholic girl screams out for help. Hoskins has played the best role of his life of a tortured, gentle, caring, sick, evil but very human man. His performance is only comparable to Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang's M. Excellent editing and and a complex, skillful score contribute to making this one of the movies of the year and a classic of the thriller genre. Don't see it unless you have the nerve.
In an interview he did with Maclean's last year(the Sept. 12 issue, I think,
though I'm not exactly sure), writer-director Atom Egoyan talked about an
incident in his life which partly explains why his last three films -
EXOTICA, THE SWEET HEREAFTER, and now FELICIA'S JOURNEY - have been about
very twisted, almost predatory, relationships. It seems when he was a teen,
he fell in love with a girl who, as it turns out, was being molested by her
father, and naturally, that caused all sorts of difficulties. Unconsciously
maybe, in order to understand how anybody could do such a thing, maybe
Egoyan has tried since to use film to do that(although I won't state that as
a fact; I'm no psychologist).
What is clear in FELICIA'S JOURNEY is that, for the first part of the movie anyway, Egoyan is clearly more interested in telling the story of Hilditch, the caterer who is more disturbed than meets the eye, than in Felicia, the young woman he befriends. If this were just a movie about Hilditch, maybe that would suffice. But in the novel by William Trevor this is based on, even though Felicia's story is a familiar one(young, somewhat naive girl falls in love with boy her family doesn't approve of, he leaves, she gets pregnant, and tries to find him), her story is of equal importance to the story of Hilditch, and Trevor is interested equally in both of them. The problem is Egoyan seems disconnected to Felicia's story, even though Elaine Cassidy is quite good in the role, so not only does the story go slack there, we start to question, as you didn't in reading the novel, how she could be so naive.
Eventually, though, when Felicia ends up staying with Hilditch and gradually learns about him, the terror of the story, and the fact that, thanks to Egoyan, we're seeing her primarily through Hilditch, makes us care. And, as I said, Cassidy is quite good.
Of course, the movie belongs to Bob Hoskins as Hilditch. Hoskins doesn't make the mistake of coming across as a sneering psychopath. Instead, he trusts us to make our associations from past roles of his(THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, MONA LISA) to realize there's something bubbling under this mama's boy, and concentrates on playing Hilditch on someone who genuinely believes he's doing good deeds here, and just want to help. It also helps that Arsinee Khanjian, as Egoyan's wife, is quite good, and funny, as the domineering mother; you may never watch cooking shows the same way again.
Egoyan also doesn't make a conventional Hollywood thriller as the movie draws to its conclusion. What he substitutes is something which, admittedly, played out better in the novel because Trevor was able to stretch it out more, but it still chills you to the bone. One may wonder why Egoyan took to a genre piece right after THE SWEET HEREAFTER, but he reworks it into a movie which does resonate.
Atom Egoyan has again created another striking work of art with his
adaptation of the William Trevor novel, "Felicia's Journey". The director
of such great films as: "Exotica", "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Speaking
Parts" has ventured from his Canadian world to that of the British Isles.
He does so effortlessly and again confronts an amazing story told in only
the way he can.
The film has the air of confidence from a film maker who has now truly found his rhythm and the ability to bring it to a mass audience. He again starts with a dark theme and manages to keep his world secretive until the final frames keeping the audience riveted. His amazing talent continues with the ability to elicit amazing performances from both established actors like Bob Hoskins and new faces like Elaine Cassidy as well as his ever lovely and talented wife, Arsinee Khanjian.
Hoskins has one of this year's best performances. The chilling Mr. Hildich would have been muddled by a lesser actor, turned into a poor man's Hannibal Lecter. But Hoskins makes the character grow with the film, he only gets more menacing as the film progresses...but never too menacing that you can't feel for him. Cassidy is equally skilled in bringing young Felicia to life. A young woman who is lonely and confused, but determined to see her dreams fulfilled. Also a special mention should be given to Claire Benedict who plays Miss Calligary...a missionary who never quite knows when to quit...even for her own good.
The story does unfold in a series of flashbacks, so those with short attention spans may need to avoid this film. But in doing so, they would rob themselves of an amazing story.
A key element to the film is Mychael Danna's musical score for the film. Music is used much more as a key player in the film than Egoyan has used in the past. It works greatly to his advantage.
This film was the opening night to the 24th Toronto International Film Festival...it was an incredible way to begin the fest. It certainly will be remembered by me for many years to come. Thank you Mr. Egoyan.
Egoyan has disappointed me many previous times, although his "Next of Kin" remains one of my all-time favorite films. Not in a thousand years would I have expected a film like this from Egoyan. We've left Canada, for god's sake; a lovely country, some very talented and multi-talented people there, especially most -- it often seems to me -- of Hollywood's greatest actors and actresses. But to travel across the Atlantic -- Egoyan hasn't done that before. And this plot is character-driven (like "Next of Kin") -- and not always shouting at you "Hey, I'm a strange and brilliant director presenting all this odd stuff for you." Egoyan's penchant for films within films and pictures within pictures and other eccentricities don't distract,this time -- they remain, but much diminished, muted. And it works. Tremendously well, in fact. Families -- that's what Egoyan does best, what he knows most deeply -- how wonderful it is when they work, how deeply we need their sustenance. But how terrible, cruel, sometimes funny, but more often monstrous the effects parents have on their children in so many cases. Hoskins has been so great, so often before, can it really be surprising he's especially excellent here? A fine film; the old Peter Lorre film "M" comes to mind, his role somewhat comparable to Hoskins' here -- but many differences exist between these works. "Felicia's Journey" is amazingly beautiful to watch, idyllic at times; we see Felicia's inner and outer beauty first through our own eyes, then increasingly through Hoskins' character's odd lens. There's beautiful countryside to view. We have both hope and menace -- something slightly askew -- a spicy mix. The mundane, the commonplace are pleasantly present, but murder and madness hover very near. Entirely, hypnotically compelling; that's the best summation. And wonderful.
For as far as I know this was the very first movie that I've seen from
Atom Egoyan. I had heard his name before and I knew that the movies he
makes are often very good, but you just can't see them all, can you?
Still, I'm glad that I finally got to see one and I must say that I'm
already a fan of his work. If his other movies are as good as this one,
than I almost can't wait to see those too.
The title "Felicia's Journey" already tells something about what to expect from this movie. It tells the story of an Irish girl that is making her way from Ireland to England, to find her boyfriend who moved there to get a job in a lawn-mower factory. On arrival she meets a lonely middle-aged catering manager, called Hilditch, who recommends a boarding room to her. But Hilditch is a bit of a strange man. Even though he seems very nice and polite, he's always alone and seems to spend hours on studying tapes of an eccentric TV chef called Gala. Gradually we learn that the man has a much darker side than what we and Felicia at first assume...
Even though he could easily have made a horror movie out of this subject or perhaps even worse, a TV-movie (it has something to do with having a bad youth, murder,...), Atom Egoyan has made the excellent choice of focusing on the drama and studying the characters with flashbacks. And by only slowly allowing the viewer to get some new information, rather than to give away everything at once, he builds up tension very well. But a good story isn't enough to make a good movie of course, some fine performances by all the actors are needed as well. Despite the fact that I didn't really know Elaine Cassidy (I only saw her play in "The Others" before), I must say that she is a pleasant surprise. She really did a very nice and convincing job with this role. The same can be said about Bob Hoskins. Him I know a lot better, but he too surprised me. He was so good in his role as Hilditch, that it took me quite some time to believe that it was really this man who did those horrible things.
Overall this is a very fine movie with some excellent performances and a very interesting story. I'm convinced that there will be several people who will not like it for several reasons, but personally I liked it a lot. For me it wasn't too slow and I stayed focused from beginning until the end. And as this movie shows, you always have to be patient. Its power doesn't lie in the beginning or in the middle. Only when it is finished, you'll fully understand what has happened. That's why I give this movie a rating in between 7.5/10 and 8/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A chilling portrait of a serial killer whose killings may all be in his imagination. Egoyan uses the unfashionable industrial Birmingham landscape to powerful effect, and Bob Hoskins gives one of the best performances of his career. The use of the car video is extraordinary and the spoof on Hitchcock (Hilditch=Hitch?) with the timeless, culinary kitchen and mum spouting recipes on the box is deeply and darkly funny. The best British movie to be ignored in 1999 and as a Canadian director, Egoyan has a great eye and ear for the sights and sounds of the English city. Great stuff.
If I had to make a top five list of the most consistent of contemporary film
directors, then Atom Egoyan would certainly be included.
Felicia's Journey adds another notch to a terrific portfolio of films. Yes this film could of trimmed ten minutes from the sagging middle section, and also lost the seemingly tacked-on epilogue.
Those points aside, it's still far superior to practically all other films on offer. Dealing with his familiar pre-occupations with family disfunctionality, sexuality and videotape, Egoyan coaxes Bob Hoskins into the most subtle and mesmeric performance of his career.
Felicia's Journey is quality work for mature audiences.
Felicia's Journey was one of those films that I loved, then hated, then
liked, then thought was decent. It was a difficult film to watch
because the pacing that Egoyan has implemented is unlike any other film
that I have seen. His use of the camera to create that uneasy sensation
on screen and while watching the film was very impressive. Hoskins
gives the performance of his career as this very controlled man with a
very dark secret while Elaine Cassidy impressed me with her simplistic
portrayal of Felicia. This was a brilliant film, but there were just
some scenes and elements that didn't seem to match the rest of the
film. The ending in particular was a bit misleading and at times
rushed, but everything building up to that point really hit a strong
nerve. If you were to define the word "thriller", I don't think that
you could do it without mentioning this film. Brilliant acting, an
interesting use of direction (which worked very well), and a story that
allowed itself to be build upon during each scene are just a few of the
great moments (that overshadow the poor) in this movie.
Felicia's Journey would not have been the powerhouse that it was if it was not for the powerful acting by Bob Hoskins who completely engulfed this character and showed us this rare glimpse of evil humanity. While I am sure that some of it is due in part by Egoyan's direction, but you cannot keep your eyes off Hoskins whenever he is on the screen. He builds his character so well, and bit by bit, that you never can anticipate what will he will say or do next. That is what is brilliant about Hoskins. Normally, when you have a troubled soul like Hilditch you can sometimes guess what he is going to do next. Actors sometimes fall into a pattern of repetition, but with Hoskins it was as if we were watching the final chapter and there were bigger events taking place. He also worked so well with Cassidy that at times I had forgotten that I was watching a film. His ability to be this sinister father figure to this girl was impressive. Hoskins really built this beautiful family dynamic to the film that I never saw coming. Outstanding performances by both that any film connoisseurs should not miss.
Taped onto the vintage acting is this deeply engrossing story that pours from the bottle like some freshly corked wine. The simplicity of the story allows the complexity of the characters emerge and be triumphant. The story gives our characters layers upon which we gradually peel away. Hoskins character especially. From the opening scene until the final, I felt as if I was given the whole course, and not just bits and pieces. While Felicia's name does take the title of this film, it is Hoskins whom this story is really about. We learn more about his life, and his struggles than we do with Felicia. Yet, the story does not stop there. I found it quite interesting that Felicia father caused her conflict, while a matriarchal figure challenged Hilditch's perception. I thought that Egoyan was really trying to do more than tell a serial killer story (as the box may reveal) by giving us these strange and strangled family moments. I felt as if this was more a story about family, then it was about the horrors of humanity or perhaps it was a slice of both. Either way, the story is the foundation to this picture, and for the first time it really worked. So many times we go to the theater expecting to be blown away by a creative and empowering story, but this time it was a polar opposite. The acting is what kept this film high above water, while the story (as simple as it was) only helped build Hoskins and Cassidy further into the world of impressiveness.
Finally, there was Egoyan behind the camera doing what he does best. I have seen only one of his other films, Exotica, and he is notorious for building the suspense from behind the camera as well as in front. His choice of panning in the wrong direction, the colors surrounding our characters and the sound of the film hit our nerves before any actors even walk into the picture. This is all coming from Egoyan's mind, which continues to impress me with each film that I view. I cannot wait to see more of his work and to see how well he has developed with each project. You can definitely see the Hitchcock influence that has been imprinted with Egoyan. I finished watching Frenzy (by Hitchcock) right after this film and the similarities were uncanny. Egoyan reminds me of a cross between Hitchcock and von Trier. His bold style makes each film his own, yet he is not afraid to be brutally honest and attributive to the cultural setting. He is a true filmmaker that needs to continue to prove that you don't need millions to create a masterpiece.
While I have given credit to everyone, and thing, that deserves it in this film, I must finish this review by saying that this film was not perfection on a stick, but very close. There were some unfinished ends that could have been tied better, and the ending just felt as if there was this outside influence at work that Egoyan was battling. Up until the final twenty minutes of this film, I was thoroughly enjoying what I was seeing, but when the idea of religion was brought in from left field, I felt the final moments were rushed and forced. I needed something just as dramatic, just not so random. Also, I needed some form of conclusion to Felicia's actual "journey". Did she find what she was looking for? Overall, I was very impressed with this film.
Grade: **** out of *****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Joe Hilditch, the head chef for an industrial complex, is a remarkable
cook. He runs the kitchen with a sense of propriety, striving to do the
best job he can do. At his home, we watch him tuned to a television
running black and white tapes following the intricate recipes
showcasing Gala, a French cook. The tapes, evidently, are from a
somewhat distant past. Joe follows the recipes exactly; he loves eating
the creations inspired by Gala.
Felicia, a young Irish girl, is seen arriving in England. She is looking for Johnny Lysaght, her boyfriend, that according to her father, has decided to go to England to join the British army, something her old man holds against him because of a natural dislike for anything from the neighbor country. Felicity defies her father to go looking for Johnny. Fate brings Joe and Felicia together in such a strange way, she will be changed forever.
In flashbacks from the tapes Joe watches, we realize his relation to the television gourmet cooking lady. Not only that, but Joe is also fond of videotaping young women he becomes in contact with. Felicia, who has no clue as to what is going around her, is oblivious to Joe's real intentions. Sadly, the story turns into something one sees coming, hoping Felicia is spared a terrible end.
Atom Egoyan, who adapted the original material, made a wonderful transfer of the novel to the screen. As he accomplished with "The Sweet Hereafter", Mr. Egoyan, shows an affinity to the William Trevor's text in a film that stays in one's memory because of his marvelous take on the characters of the book. He remains true to the original work, expanding it for the big screen in a satisfying film.
Bo Hoskins has one of the opportunities of his career impersonating Joe Hilditch. As a matter of fact, the young actor chosen to impersonate the young Joe, bears an uncanny resemblance with the actor. Elaine Cassidy makes a wonderful Felicia, the young woman that does not have any idea of what she is getting into. Arsenee Khanjian, does a tremendous contribution as Gala, the television master cook whose program has been kept for posterity.
Atom Egoyan, one of the best Canadian filmmakers gets better with every new project he becomes involved in.
Angel-faced Elaine Cassidy is suitably innocent as an unwed Irish teen
naively searching England for the boyfriend who deserts her, and Bob Hoskins
is effectively controlled and creepy as the serial-killing caterer who comes
to her "assistance"; but this is a mostly uncomfortable smashing together of
coming-of-age drama and "Silence of the Lambs". At times the film has a
mesmerizing pull, but director Egoyan too often stalls things with needless
flashbacks that provide information the audience has already come to
understand, or tries to invest trite scenes with a revelatory significance
that just isn't there. It climaxes awkwardly and absurdly with a delirious
depiction of two religious crusaders being more monstrous than Hoskins'
Egoyan labors to establish some pre-conscious link between the girl and the killer, contrasting Hilditch's (Hoskins) warped, twisted innocence with Felicia's pure, unspoiled variety. He just can't quite pull it off though, as there is no escaping the conviction that what Hilditch has been doing (luring unhappy girls into his car, befriending them on videotape, then killing them) is repugnant beyond comprehension. In fact, that is probably the most tired, hoary theme in movies today: that the seemingly cold-blooded killer or assassin or whatever is "just doing his job" or is "really no different than you or me". Oh really? How fascinating.
Despite Egoyan's sumptuous visuals, I found myself focusing on the many plot holes due to his studied (some have found it hypnotic) pacing. How in the world did Hilditch attach a name to a face when it comes to tracking down Felicia's boyfriend? Why doesn't the boyfriend recognize Felicia at the pub? How can Hilditch be sure that Felicia wouldn't suspect him as the person who stole her money? True, she's gullible and trusting but he WAS alone with her bag in the car. There's no way he could've known she'd leave her bag out of sight anywhere else; in fact it's highly unlikely that she would. And why in the world don't the abducted girls he's giving rides to just escape by jumping out of his car? You can clearly see on the videotapes that he's driving slowly in populated areas, and you never see him using a gun. These are the sorts of things that really stand out when the central story isn't quite working.
"Felicia's Journey" certainly isn't a total failure and I admire some of the chances it takes, but ultimately it fails to work because the two approaches are at odds with each other. That is, the microscopically observed psychological "stuff" dehydrates the thriller elements (and at times, the movie is clearly trying to pump up the suspense and WANTS to be a nail-biter) and the thriller elements trivialize the dramatic breakthroughs.
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