Despite the death of his partner producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory and the team’s longtime collaborator, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, have soldiered on, but to rather pallid effect, with this stolid, talky adaptation of Peter Cameron’s novel. If, as seems likely, it turns out to be the final gasp of the Merchant-Ivory oeuvre, it will be a sad farewell.
“City of Your Final Destination” is about Omar (Omar Metwally), an Iranian-American academic, who travels to Uruguay to persuade the relatives of Jules Gund, an author who recently killed himself, to endorse an authorized biography of the dead man after they refuse an initial written request. Concerned that his university career might be jeopardized by a failure to complete the project—a prospect that bothers his brusquely professional girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara)—he makes the difficult journey to the rustic enclave of Ochos Rios to persuade the writer’s heirs to reverse their decision.
When he gets to the estate, he finds an unusual family. Jules’s widow Caroline (Laura Linney), is bitter and hostile to the idea of the book, and her little daughter is serious and intense. The dead man’s young mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is also there, and more open and accommodating. Most welcoming of all is Jules’s uncle Adam (Anthony Hopkins), a jovially dissolute sort who occupies a nearby house with his long-time lover (Hiroyuki Sanada).
The dramatic arc isn’t terribly interesting. Omar talks repeatedly with Caroline, trying to persuade her—the obstinate holdout—to change her mind. Meanwhile Adam asks him to do him a favor by smuggling some of the family jewels out of the country for sale. And Omar finds himself increasingly bewitched by the lovely Arden. When his businesslike girlfriend shows up unexpectedly to check on his efforts, her presence puts the brake to that—and imperils the success of his mission.
The problems with the film are numerous. The dialogue has the sort of heavily literary tone that sounds false, and the script fails to give any real dimension to the characters. Nor do the cast help matters much. Metwally is simply bland, a serious deficiency in the protagonist we’re meant to identify with. Linney overdoes the tight-lipped chilliness, and Gainsbourg, while undeniably attractive, has little to do but look so. Hopkins, on the other hand, is all tics and gesticulation, overdoing the world-wise, hard-drinking, manipulative but basically kind-heated gay gentleman. Of the secondary figures, Sanada is cheerfully unassuming as Adam’s kept boy, but Norma Aleandro, as the local grande dame who serves as both a source of background information and an acerbic critic of the Gund family, is as broad as can be. Ivory’s direction is at best workmanlike, and while technically the picture is adequate (with good, but not outstanding, cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe), it isn’t very interesting visually, and the score by Jorge Drexler is simply undistinctive.
Perhaps one would feel differently if the ending offered any surprises that made the narrative slog worthwhile, but instead it closes with a revelation about Jules that brings a dull thud, followed by a romantic twist that has no passion or resonance.
One would have liked the Merchant-Ivory string to have ended on a more distinguished note than this. But the truth is that their more recent efforts have been disappointments, and “City of Your Final Destination” is among the weakest of them.