Review: ‘A Call to Spy,’ starring Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhika Apte, Linus Roache and Rossif Sutherland

November 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sarah Megan Thomas in “A Call to Spy” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“A Call to Spy”

Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United Kingdom and France during World War II, the dramatic film “A Call to Spy,” which is inspired by a true story, features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one Indian) representing the middle-class, working-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A United Kingdom-based government operation recruits women to become spies in Nazi-occupied France.

Culture Audience: “A Call to Spy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in real-life World War II stories that don’t get much attention, but the formulaic plot and slow pace of the movie are detriments to the movie’s overall inspiring message.

Stana Katic in “A Call to Spy” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

The dramatic film “A Call to Spy,” which is based on real events, has its heart in the right place, but the movie is a little too cookie-cutter and by-the-numbers predictable for it to be considered a great movie. However, “A Call to Spy” (directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher) has enough merit because it tells a noble story that’s never been told before in a movie: how women during World War II volunteered to become spies for the Allied Forces by going into Nazi-occupied France and helping the French Resistance movement. The spy program was created by Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret group formed by the British government in 1940.

“A Call to Spy” was written and produced by Sarah Megan Thomas, who also stars as Virginia Hall, the story’s main heroine and the only American character in the film. Virginia has a prosthetic leg below the knee, and her leg disability is why she’s been rejected several times to work as a diplomat for the United States Foreign Service. It’s not shown in the movie, but the real-life Virginia Hall was an ambulance driver in France and lived for a while in Spain before she was recruited in 1941 to work for SOE.

Although Thomas is not a bad actress, it’s easy to see that she financed this movie so she could showcase herself. And there’s nothing wrong with that if the quality of the film is what the subject matter deserves. When someone is the producer, writer and star of a movie, that person might not be willing to take constructive criticism to improve the project.

A more objective producer probably would have been able to do something to improve the movie’s obvious flaws, particularly the over-simplistic screenplay that doesn’t properly acknowledge some of war’s harsh realities. And it isn’t until the film’s epilogue that it’s mentioned how high the mortality rate was (about 33%) for the women in this spy program who died while in service.

“A Call to Spy” focuses on three women who are part of this SOE spy program: Virginia Hall, who is the movie’s pluckiest, bravest and most resourceful heroine; SOE “spymistress” Vera Atkins (played by Stana Katic), who personally recruits many of the women spies and does mostly office work in London; and Noor Inayat Khan (played by Radhika Apte), whose family background is inexplicably changed for this movie. In “A Call to Spy,” Noor is described as an “Indian princess” whose father comes from Indian royalty and whose white mother is American. In real life, Noor Inayat Khan did have an Indian father and a white American mother, but her father was a musician who wasn’t part of Indian royalty.

The idea to recruit women spies came about because women wouldn’t be considered as suspicious as men. “A Call to Spy” has a prologue explaining that in the British government’s mission to help the French Resistance by having spies infiltrate Nazi-occupied France, “there were no experienced spies for this type of warfare.” Therefore, “amateurs” had to be recruited. A lot of the women were “wireless” operatives, since one of their chief responsibilities was using telegraphs to wire information that they received.

Vera’s supervisor at SOE’s F section in London is Colonel Maurice Buckmaster (played by Linus Roache), who is written and portrayed as an enlightened man who was way ahead of his time because he doesn’t have a problem with a woman being in charge of this important recruitment process. Maurice also knows a big secret about Vera: She and her mother are Jewish refugees, and they are not British citizens. Maurice tells Vera that her secret is safe with him. Meanwhile, Vera has been applying for British citizenship but has been rejected multiple times.

During Virginia’s spy activities in France, she makes an ally in a French physician named Doctor Chevain (played by Rossif Sutherland), who helps hide and give medical treatment to Jewish people and people involved in the French Resistance. Meanwhile, Noor is embedded as a servant in the house of a French Nazi, and she’s taken the alias Madeline. The movie’s sometimes slow pace begins to pick up when it actually shows these spies at work. The best parts of the movie are how they navigate the intrigue and secrecy of taking on a new identity while fulfilling their duties to get valuable information to send to the British government.

Unfortunately, too much of “A Call to Spy” has very “TV movie of the week” characteristics instead of being a powerful and immersive cinema experience. And that doesn’t mean that the movie needed a larger budget. The film’s screenplay often does a disservice to its intent of being a historical film, because it downplays or erases too many of the horrible-but-realistic aspects of war. It’s almost as if the filmmakers were thinking, “Women are probably the target audience for this movie. Therefore, we can’t put anything in the movie that’s too realistic because it would be too disturbing to the target audience.”

For example, this is a movie about female spies, but nowhere does the movie acknowledge that sexual violence is a part of war. It’s as if the filmmakers want viewers to think that people during World War II didn’t experience these atrocities. And that doesn’t mean that rape had to be shown in the movie. But the movie doesn’t even mention that rape and other sexual assault were real risks that these female spies had to consider or experienced while they were doing this dangerous work.

As part of their training, the female spies are told to not get emotionally involved with anyone they meet while performing their spy duties. And the movie shows a little bit of their self-defense training, where Virginia is taught how to slice someone with a knife while ambushing from behind. And because they train alongside men, the movie predictably show some of the sexist reactions they get from some of their male colleagues.

But the movie fails to acknowledge a major gender difference in espionage training: Female spies, then and now, are taught that they can use their sexuality in order to get what they want. It’s understandable that the filmmakers of this movie did not want to depict the sexuality aspect of spying (there’s no sex or romance in the movie), but it seems like they also wanted to shield the audience from this reality.

The women spies don’t need to have any sexual encounters in this movie for it to be realistic. But in trying too hard to present the women spies as saintly and practically asexual heroes, “A Call to Spy” gives the women spies a “too good to be true” sheen that at times looks unrealistic. However, it’s admirable how the movie depicts the friendships and loyalties that develop among these colleagues.

The movie has questionable portrayals of what happens when spies are captured by the enemy. There’s a scene near the beginning of the film where Virginia is captured and goes through water torture, but when things go wrong for Virginia, things work out just a little too smoothly for her. There’s a scene later in the movie where Virginia is mistakenly assigned to walk through brutal winter snow in the Pyrenees to go to a particular destination, but it’s really a trap that was set by the Nazis. But how she was able to avoid this trap is never fully explained because she’s next seen safe and sound, having a meeting with SOE officials.

There are some SOE men in the movie who are blatantly sexist, but they are written as minor characters that make rude comments and don’t really try to actively sabotage Vera or take her power away. For example, one of these sexist male colleagues tells Vera about her recruitment of female spies: “Miss Atkins, make sure they’re pretty.” Vera quips in response: “For you or the spies?”

The Nazis are obviously portrayed as the villains, so the movie shows the worst derogatory comments and violence coming from the Nazis. However, as much as the movie wants to make a big deal out of these spies being women, it also glosses over how these unmarried, attractive women (especially Virginia and Noor, who are actually in France doing the spying, while Vera basically has an office job in England) would be used and abused in this line of work, sometimes from people who are supposed to be on their side.

There’s a little bit of tokenism to the Noor character, since the movie never really delves into her perspective of how she must have felt being a woman of color sent to spy in Nazi territory. When it comes to any bigotry barriers that these women face, other than gender discrimination, “A Call to Spy” gives Virginia’s prosthetic leg much more empathy than Noor’s skin color as an “impediment” that makes them the target of prejudice. However, when it suits her, Virginia can and does hide the fact that she has a prosthetic leg, whereas Noor cannot hide her skin color.

The character of Vera comes closest to being written as a human being with vulnerabilities, such as self-doubt and impatience. She doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, nor does she try to be a feminist superwoman, because she often defers to her boss Maurice to make big decisions. Virginia and Noor are portrayed with almost no personality flaws and are completely focused on their work, whereas Vera has more of a realistic emotional story arc.

All of the cast members do adequate jobs of portraying their characters, but there’s really nothing outstanding about their performances. The movie, which was actually filmed in Pennsylvania and Hungary, has better costume design than it does production design. All of the other production elements are fine, but not award-worthy. “A Call to Spy” is worth seeing for a portrayal of World War II female espionage that’s not really taught in history classes. However, the movie gives the impression that people would be better off reading non-fiction books to get a sense of who these women really were.

IFC Films released “A Call to Spy” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on October 2, 2020. The movie’s U.K. release was on October 23, 2020.

Review: ‘Possessor Uncut,’ starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton and Rossif Sutherland

October 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Andrea Riseborough in “Possessor Uncut” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Possessor Uncut”

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi horror film “Possessor Uncut” features a predominantly white cast (with some black, Asian and Latino people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An elite assassin, who carries out murders by having her mind possess the bodies of other people, finds herself trapped in the body of someone who could threaten to destroy her. 

Culture Audience: “Possessor Uncut” will appeal primarily to people who like sci-fi horror with a lot of disturbing visuals and concepts.

Christopher Abbott in “Possessor Uncut” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

What happens when an assassin’s target turns on the assassin? It’s a concept that writer/director Brandon Cronenberg depicts in the harrowing sci-fi horror film “Possessor Uncut,” but there’s a twist: The assassin’s mind is trapped in a man’s body that she has possessed to carry out her assigned murder spree. When she tries to get her mind back into her real body, the man she has possessed won’t let her go.

“Possessor Uncut” doesn’t get to this crucial part of the story until the last third of the film. Before then, the movie spends a lot of time showing the audience the personal backgrounds and circumstances that lead to this assassination assignment that goes horribly wrong for the assassin. Tasya Vos (played by Andrea Riseborough) is an elite assassin who works for a mysterious Canadian company that’s in the business of murdering powerful people.

The company’s name and city are not mentioned in the movie, but the company’s wealthy clients are enemies of the murder victims. In the movie’s opening scene, a lounge hostess named Holly Bergman (played Gabrielle Graham), who works at an upscale place called the Blue Light Sky Lounge, has viciously stabbed to a death a rich and powerful man named Elio Mazza (played by Matthew Garlick), in full view of several people who are in the crowded lounge.

After she commits the murder, Holly utters, “Pull me out.” She then takes a gun and appears to get ready to place it in her mouth to commit suicide. But for whatever reason, she can’t do it. The police arrive, she shoots the gun at them, and the police fire their guns at Holly and kill her. Instead of shooting herself,  Holly has decided to commit “suicide by cop.”

It turns out that Holly’s mind had been “possessed” by the mind of Tasya, whose real body is lying in what looks like a compression chamber. When Holly said, “Pull me out,” it was Tasya telling the company’s employees overseeing her mind transference to pull her mind out of Holly’s body and back into Tasya’s real body. It’s a routine that Tasya has been trained to take every time her mind possesses the body of someone who commits the assassination that Tasya has been assigned to complete.

The company that Tasya works for has a certain procedure that Tasya is supposed to follow: After the murder or murders for the assignment have occurred, the person whose body Tasya has inhabited is supposed to commit suicide. Right before that suicide happens, Tasya has to request to “pull me out,” so the company can pull Tasya’s mind back into her real body.

After the assassination, the next step is that Tasya has to undergo an evaluation by a supervisor named Girder (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s usually in the room when Tasya’s mind is transported back to her real body. The evaluation includes a test of Tasya’s memories, to see if her own personal memories are intact and not mixed up and with or “charred by” the mind she previously inhabited. Tasya is shown a series of objects from her childhood (such as her father’s pipe and a framed butterfly) and asked to identify them and describe her memories of them.

The assassination of Elio Mazza was completed, and Tasya’s post-assassination evaluation yielded “normal results.” Girder is pleased that Tasya’s evaluation showed no problems. Girder comments, “Our next assignment is almost finalized. I can’t have our star performer falling apart on me.”

But the murder of Elio Mazza didn’t go exactly according to the company’s plan. The murder was supposed to be committed by shooting, but the murder was instead committed by stabbing. And after the murder, Holly did not immediately shoot herself but instead waited to be shot by police. Girder asks Tasya, “Why stab Elio Mazza? We provided you with a pistol.” Tasya can’t really answer the question.

Despite these discrepancies in Tasya not following these instructions, Girder wants to go ahead and give Tasya a very lucrative assignment. One of Girder’s colleagues expresses concern to Girder that Tasya didn’t follow the suicide instructions according to plan, and he wonders if Tasya will also not follow the instructions during the next assignment. However, Girder dismisses her colleague’s concerns and tells Tasya about her next assignment.

The company wants Tasya’s mind to inhabit the body of Colin Tate (played by Christopher Abbott), who started out as the cocaine dealer for a spoiled heiress named Ava Parse (played by Tuppence Middleton) and ended up becoming her lover and is now engaged to be married to her. Colin and Ava are both in their 30s. Ava’s rich and powerful father is John Parse (played by Sean Bean), a tech mogul who owns a company that makes devices similar to Apple Inc.’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Tasya is supposed to possess the body of Colin for three days.

The company has decided that Ava’s fiancé Colin is the best person to commit the murder, since he has a sketchy background as a drug dealer and it will be framed to look like he had insecurity issues over his life being controlled by a wealthy family. Colin works for John’s company, but Colin is in a low-level position that is probably emasculating for Colin.

Girder explains to Tasya that John’s stepson Reid Parse (played by Christopher Jacot) wants an assassin to murder John and Ava, so that Reid can inherit the family fortune. John is divorced from Ava’s mother and Reid’s mother, so these two women presumably aren’t in John’s will. (Neither woman is seen in the movie, although later in the story, John makes a bitter comment to Ava about Ava’s mother leaving him years ago.) Because Reid has John’s last name, it’s inferred that John adopted Reid when John was married to Reid’s mother.

As is the company’s usual procedure, the plan is for Colin (the possessed assassin) to commit suicide immediately after the murders of John and Ava. Rather than have the police look for a stranger assassin, the case will be closed because investigators will conclude that it was a murder-suicide committed by Colin. A sizeable chunk of the fortune that Reid wants to inherit will go to the company that employs Tasya and Girder. Girder also mentions to Tasya that the assassin company will essentially “control” Reid, because it’s implied that the assassin company has so much dirt on Reid (including his murder-for-hire scheme) that the company could easily get more money out of him by blackmailing him.

As a star employee of this assassin company, Tasya’s work life might be going well, but her home life is not going well at all. She’s separated from her husband Michael Vos (played by Rossif Sutherland), who is living with their son Ira (played by Gage Graham-Arbuthnot), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Michael and Ira don’t know what Tasya does for a living. Throughout the story, it’s implied that because Tasya has such a secretive job that requires her to spend long periods of time away from home, it’s taken a toll on her marriage to Michael.

Although Tasya is officially separated from Michael, she still goes back and forth between her home (where she lives by herself) and the home where Michael and Ira live. It seems that Tasya can’t quite make up her mind if she wants to get back together with Michael or go through with a divorce. During one of those times that she’s back with Michael and sleeping with him, she has nightmares about the stabbing of Elio Mazza. 

The marketing materials of “Possessor Uncut” prominently feature star Riseborough as the main character, but she is really only in half of this movie. Abbott gets a lot of screen time as Colin, and he could easily be considered a co-lead actor for this film. In the movie, Tasya is seen spying on Colin and Ava in their home by telescope (apparently Tasya has rented a place near the home), so that she can study Colin’s speech patterns, mannerisms and home routines. It’s her preparation before Tasya’s mind will inhabit Colin’s body.

One of the plot holes in “Possessor” is that it never fully explains how the person who’s supposed to be possessed gets into a situation where the mind transfer can be completed without their full knowledge. There’s some vague imagery of the mind transfer happening to Colin while he’s asleep. Tasya has to be hooked up to machine for the mind transfer, but the body she possesses apparently doesn’t have to be hooked up to a machine when the mind transfer happens. This is a science-fiction film, so viewers will just have to go with this murky explanation for how the mind transfer happens.

As part of her training, Tasya has been warned that although her mind can possess someone else’s body, the original mind of that person can still exist in the body. The trick is for Tasya’s mind to dominate the other person’s mind and then leave no trace of her mind when she leaves the person’s body. The danger comes when the other mind is conscious of being possessed by Tasya and attempts to take back control.

This twisty concept of “Possessor Uncut” might be too confusing to some viewers, because it’s all explained in bits and pieces and not in a completely straightforward manner. This is a movie that can be fully appreciated if it’s watched without other distractions going on. There are many details that need to be paid attention to when watching this movie, in order to get the full picture of what’s happening and the subtle indications of what’s going to happen.

About halfway through the movie, when Andrea’s mind possesses Colin’s body, the movie pivots to showing Colin’s life. At John’s company, Colin works at a job that barely pays minimum wage. He works as some kind of surveillance monitor (he wears virtual-reality goggles as part of his job), for the Siri/Alexa-type devices that are in people’s homes, to make sure that the devices are working properly.

It’s really just a legal way to spy on people in their homes, since people who buy these devices have waived certain rights to privacy as part of the user agreement. Therefore, a lot of this company’s employees can watch many intimate things that go on in people’s homes, including people having sex. It’s what Colin does in one of the movie’s scenes. And it’s writer/director Cronenberg’s way of showing viewers that this part of the movie isn’t really science fiction, because devices like Siri and Alexa have embedded audio and video components that can be monitored by employees of the companies that make these devices.

Colin has a smarmy co-worker named Eddie (played by Raoul Bhaneja), who gets off on watching people have sex without them knowing it. Eddie considers the sexual voyeurism one of the perks of the job, because it happens so often, and he tries to compare “spying” stories with Colin. Colin doesn’t really engage in these conversations because he just sees this spying activity as part of a job, not as a way to feel power over people. However, Colin is curious enough to keep watching when he does see people having sex.

Colin’s relationship with Ava is still fueled by cocaine, which he supplies for them since he has the connections. However, now that he is engaged to Ava and can live off her money, it’s implied that he just buys cocaine and has stopped selling it. Ava seems to be in love with him but it’s not clear how Colin really feels about her because the movie mainly shows Colin when he’s possessed by Tasya’s mind.

During a scene in Ava and Colin’s home where they’re having a small party with their friends, one of the friends named Reeta (played by Kaniehtiio “Tiio” Horn), who works at John’s company, hints that Ava has some “daddy issues.” Ava has a history of dating men who don’t get the approval of Ava’s father John, who then finds ways to humiliate these boyfriends. In Colin’s case, John’s way of humiliating Colin is to give him a very low-paying job at the company. It’s never fully explained why Colin doesn’t just work somewhere else, but it’s implied that Colin wants to do whatever it takes to get in this rich family’s good graces.

Under the orders of Girder, Tasya is told that while Tasya’s mind is in possession of Colin’s body, Colin is supposed to stage a big public fight with John, to give investigators a motive for the murders. The opportunity comes at a lavish party that John has, where many of his business colleagues are in attendance. But all does not go according to plan.

And there were signs that things would go wrong, because Tasya’s memories and thoughts were being in “invaded” by Colin’s memories and thoughts. The movie has some very striking and sometimes unsettling visuals depicting this messy melding and the eventual mind battle that takes place in Colin’s body. All of these visual effects have a very “scary psychedelic trip” look to them that will definitely make people remember this movie.

Riseborough is the top-billed star of “Possessor Uncut,” and she does a good job in her role, but the Tasya character remains a mystery throughout the entire film. The movie shows more of Colin’s personal life than it shows of Tasya’s personal life. Perhaps writer/director Cronenberg wanted to keep Tasya an enigma, so that it would be easier for viewers to see her as a chameleon who could inhabit other people’s bodies.

Abbott has the more difficult performance in conveying a person whose body is being possessed and fought over by two different people. It’s a very convincing performance that takes “Possessor Uncut” to a higher-quality level than the average “body possession” horror movie. The movie’s storyline is sometimes a bit choppy, but if people can handle the film’s dark themes and uniquely horrifying imagery, then “Possessor Uncut” is worth watching for some unnerving depictions of mind power and control.

Neon and Well Go USA released “Possessor Uncut” in select U.S. cinemas on October 2, 2020.

Review: ‘Guest of Honour,’ starring David Thewlis, Laysla De Oliveira, Rossif Sutherland, Arsinée Khanjian and Luke Wilson

July 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Thewlis in “Guest of Honour” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Guest of Honour”

Directed by Atom Egoyan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada, the dramatic film “Guest of Honour” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who spent time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit attempts to reconcile with her past and her family secrets when she meets with a priest about her father’s funeral.

Culture Audience: “Guest of Honour” will appeal primarily to people who like arthouse psychological dramas that are slow-moving and where people act illogically.

Luke Wilson and Laysla De Oliveira in “Guest of Honour” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

The movie “Guest of Honour” (written and directed by Atom Egoyan) presents itself as a psychologically driven drama that’s supposed to unravel a family mystery, but the only mystery that viewers will be faced with is whether or not it’s worth their time to slog through this convoluted and often-dull film. Although the movie is anchored by an interesting and somewhat complex performance by David Thewlis, ultimately it falls short in how the characters are developed and how sluggish and illogical the story ends up being in many ways.

“Guest of Honour” begins with a woman in her late 20s who is meeting with a priest at a church, in order to make arrangements for her widower father’s funeral. She has never met this priest before, but she’s there because it was her father’s dying wish to have his funeral service conducted by the priest at this church. The woman’s name is Veronica Davis (played by Laysla De Oliveria), and the priest’s name is Father Greg (played by Luke Wilson). Veronica starts to tell Father Greg not only her life story but also what her father Jim Davis (played by Thewlis) was like when Veronica knew him.

And apparently, Father Greg has enough time on his hands to listen, because as the story unfolds to viewers in this 103-minute movie, it’s a rather long-winded, non-linear, rambling tale that will test the patience of people having to hear it. The movie flashes back and forth between showing Veronica’s life as a child, Veronica’s life as an adult, David’s life before his wife died of cancer, and David’s life as a widower.

There’s a lot to unpack about David’s and Veronica’s lives, but one thing is clear: Veronica has had a lot of people close to her die while she’s still in her 20s. She also spent time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, but she confessed to the crime and asked for the maximum sentence. Why? Because she feels guilty about something she did in her past.

Most of the movie has spoiler information, so the only spoiler-free details that can really be revealed are from some of the flashback scenes. Viewers find out that David’s wife/Veronica’s mother Roseangela (played by Tennille Read) was a Brazilian immigrant in Canada. Veronica is David and Roseangela’s only child.

This family of three had a happy life until Roseangela got cancer when Veronica was about 9 years old. David, who never remarried, used to own a restaurant. But at some point in his life, he switched careers to become a health inspector of restaurants.

Flashbacks show that David was a very stern inspector who took his job very seriously. He liked to randomly show up and surprise people with his inspections. And he wouldn’t hesitate to shut down a restaurant for health-code violations.

There’s a scene where he finds a strand of hair in his food while dining at a food court, and he gives a scathing lecture to the young woman behind the counter for not wearing a hair net while working. There are no scenes of David as a restaurateur, but there are scenes of him visiting Veronica in prison and being frustrated when she refuses his offer to help her get released early.

When Veronica was a child (played by Isabella Franca), she took piano lessons from a family friend named Alicia (played by Sochi Fried), who had a son named Walter (played by Alexander Marsh), who was approximately the same age as Veronica. Walter and Veronica became close friends, and that relationship had developed into a romance by the time that they became young-adult teenagers. (Gage Munroe plays the adult Walter.)

As for the crime that landed Veronica in prison, even though she didn’t commit the crime, it was for sexual misconduct with an underage student. A flashback shows that Veronica used to be a music teacher at a high school, where she was the conductor of the school’s orchestra. Being a young, attractive and popular teacher got her a lot of attention from the male students, and well as other people who were in her orbit.

While on a tour with the school orchestra, one of the students named Clive (played by Alexandre Bourgeois) has an obvious crush on Veronica, so he boldly asks her out to dinner after one of the orchestra’s performances. Veronica politely declines and says that she has a dinner date with the tour bus driver, whose name is Mike (played by Rossif Sutherland). Mike is a scruffy creep who’s about 10 to 15 years older than Veronica. She’s not interested in Mike, but Veronica is temporarily using Mike as a “shield” to ward off Clive’s advances.

When Veronica has dinner with Mike, it’s obvious that Mike is attracted to her too. He’s been noticing that Veronica and Clive have a little bit of a mutual flirtation, but as far as anyone can see, there’s nothing inappropriate going on between the student and the teacher. When Veronica tells Mike that she’s only having dinner with him so that Clive will lose interest in her, Mike is offended. However, Veronica tells Mike that he shouldn’t be insulted because she’s being honest with him in telling him that she’s not interested in dating Mike either.

The movie reveals exactly how Veronica got into trouble and why she was accused of sexual misconduct. There’s also quite a bit of screen time showing David on the job as an inspector. Although he can be a tough evaluator, he also shows moments of compassion. One of the restaurants that David inspects is a place called the Vienna Tavern, where he has a fateful meeting with a restaurant manager named Anna (Arsinée Khanjian).

And a white rabbit named Benjamin, which David gave to Veronica as a gift when she was 9 years old, is a quasi-metaphor in the movie for David’s relationship with Veronica. The rabbit lives a lot longer than most rabbits, and that longevity is mentioned in the movie, to make it obvious to viewers that this is supposed to be a special rabbit.

David takes care of Benjamin when Veronica is in prison. He clings to the rabbit in moments when it’s obvious that he’s thinking of Veronica. David and Veronica also think a rabbit’s foot is a good-luck charm, which leads to a gruesome request that David makes toward the end of the film.

One of the striking things about this family drama is how isolated David and Veronica seem to be in their lives after Roseangela died. If Veronica and David have any other relatives or any other friends besides Walter and Alicia, they are not seen or mentioned at all in this movie, which is why this story feels like a lot is missing. There’s also a cringeworthy part of the movie where Father Greg commits a major breach of ethics by revealing to Veronica something confidential that David told Father Greg.

The weakest part of “Guest of Honour” is when David tries to play private detective and to find out exactly how and why Veronica got in trouble and imprisoned for a crime that he knows that she didn’t commit. It leads to some hokey moments, such as when David does some melodramatic shouting in a restaurant about Veronica’s reputation and how she’s not the type of person to commit the crime.

This investigation takes an emotional toll on David, but the scenes just aren’t very well-written. David goes from being a nebbish health inspector to having an almost vigilante-like obsession to get justice for his daughter. He’s not acting like Liam Neeson in a “Taken” movie, but David starts making threats as if he’s some kind of mob boss for the health department.

As a mystery, “Guest of Honour” (whose title is explained in the film) loses steam by the last third of the film because Veronica’s secret has already been revealed at this point. It’s not a surprise that David has a secret too, which is revealed toward the end of film, but his secret is very anti-climactic.

Although the acting and most of the production elements (such as cinematography and production design) in “Guest of Honour” are good (but not great), ultimately the movie could have benefited from a better screenplay and tighter editing. The father and daughter at the center of this story are written as a series of unfortunate events instead of people with emotionally rich and full lives.

Kino Lorber released “Guest of Honour” in select U.S. and Canadian virtual cinemas on July 10, 2020. The movie’s DVD and Blu-ray release date is August 18, 2020.

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