Felicia's Journey (1999)
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Arsinee Khanjian, Peter McDonald, Claire Benedict, Gerard McSorley, Brid Brennan, Danny Turner, Sheila Reid.
1999 116 minutes
Rated: (for mature themes and mild profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 21, 1999.
Writer-director Atom Egoyan has made a fairly prosperous, respected career out of making complex, thought-provoking motion pictures that challenge the viewer's mind and soul. As of late, most notably with 1995's "Exotica" and 1997's "The Sweet Hereafter," he also has begun to dabble in stories that easily could have been transformed into examples of tiresome, conventional filmmaker, but has wisely opted to present them out of chronological order, so as to gradually tear off layer after layer until he is able to uncover the truths of the characters. The true craftsman that Egoyan is, and aided by music composer and recent Egoyan staple Mychael Danna's provocative score that effortlessly compliments the actions onscreen, the intricate narrative never feels contrived or unnecessary, because in each of his pictures, there have been very distinct reasons for why he constructs his films this way.
In Egoyan's latest, "Felicia's Journey," based on the novel by William Trevor, Bob Hoskins stars in a performance of startling psychological depth as Joseph Hilditch, a seemingly kindhearted, if suspicious, middle-aged man who works as a catering manager in a small England town. Much of his time at home is spent preparing extravagant meals as he watches videotapes of his late mother's cooking show from the 1950s. In a moment of chance, Hilditch meets Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), a sullen Irish teenager who has left her home to search for her older boyfriend, Johnny (Peter McDonald), after he allegedly went away to work in a lawn mower factory near Birmingham. Walking the roads in search of a person who very well might have lied to her, Felicia is given directions by Hilditch to a factory, and later, suggests a cozy bed-and-breakfast up the street for her to stay at.
When Hilditch offers to drive Felicia fifty miles to a place where Johnny may be, while he goes to the hospital to visit his dying wife Ada, he begins to grow a possibly dangerous emotional attachment to Felicia. In a series of scenes intercut between one another, we discover Hilditch has secretly taped numerous young women whom he has given a lift to in the past--women that have deeply trusted and confided in him--only to murder them. The catch is, the clearly unhinged Hilditch obviously is unable to process the full range of the horrendous crimes he has committed, and views the tapes of them to falsely reassure himself that they are still alive.
It might be a throwaway statement to say that "Felicia's Journey" could be looked upon as the thinking person's "The Bone Collector," but it really is the complete truth. A serial killer movie in the most unorthodox sense, Egoyan trusts his audience as intelligent people fully capable of deconstructing the complicated nature of his films, and he is correct in doing so. While "Felicia's Journey," like the remarkable "The Sweet Hereafter," moves back and forth between the past and present, it never once becomes confusing or distractive, but turns into a sort of poetry, flowing gently from one scene to the next. Even more striking is the fact that not once does the film come right out and state that Hilditch is a cold-blooded murderer. Instead, through vitally important, ethereal sequences, it is merely implied, and that is greatly more threatening in its implications than the entirety of "The Bone Collector," where various scenes of physical violence and abuse are shown in detail.
Bob Hoskins strikes all the right notes as Joseph Hilditch, a man we are never really sure whether to sympathize with or fear. Growing up with a neglectful mother (Arsinee Khanjian) who was the star of her own television show, the only times Hilditch received even a fleeting glimpse of attention is when she would put him on camera with her. Hoskins efficaciously portrays all of the loneliness and confusion one often endures in life from growing up in an unstable household.
Newcomer Elaine Cassidy is a real find in the title role of Felicia. You could easily visualize someone such as Sarah Polley as the character, and she would have been just as good, no doubt, but Cassidy is a fresh face who is not only appealing, but truly talented. Felicia is the less flashy role of the two central characters, but in a way, she has the trickier one to play. On the outset, she has fooled herself into believing Johnny is her soulmate, when it is almost certain he doesn't care for her the same way she does for him. Through the course of the film, Felicia grows from a naive child into a thoughtful adult.
While "The Sweet Hereafter" was a decidedly richer Egoyan adaptation of a book (that one by Russell Banks), with a more cathartic emotional force, "Felicia's Journey" is a striking motion picture, nonetheless. It may stray towards being a bit too contemplative and deliberately paced at times, but is filled with such thoroughly copious details, and leads to such a satisfying conclusion, that it remains a fully rewarding experience.
©1999 by Dustin Putman