The Wedding Guest

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Wedding Guest
"Michael Winterbottom’s atmospheric thriller is packed full of twists and turns but to focus on trying to anticipate and resolve them is to miss the point." | Photo: TIFF

The stranger (Dev Patel) says he’s visiting Pakistan to attend a wedding. He’s an old university friend of the groom. He has an English accent, tells a curious boy that he’s from Leicester. “Is it beautiful?” asks the boy. The stranger proves adept at telling people what they want to hear.

Samira (Radhika Apte) doesn't want to be married. When she wakes to find a hand over her mouth and a gun pointed at her head, she’s ready to cooperate. Even being trapped in the boot of a speeding car is a tolerable inconvenience. But Samira is no helpless victim in the hands of powerful men. She has secrets of her own.

Michael Winterbottom’s atmospheric thriller is packed full of twists and turns but to concentrate on trying to anticipate and resolve them is to miss the point. The focus here is on the characters and on the bond that forms between them as they gradually get the measure of each other whilst trying to survive – a bond that could massively inconvenience both of them over the longer term. It’s a film that juxtaposes the allure of a certain kind of criminal lifestyle with an acknowledgement of what it costs, what has to be sacrificed to live that way – even in the absence of any significant interest in conventional morality.

Gorgeously shot by day and by night, the film makes use of several locations and gives each a distinctive atmosphere, even if we see very little of it. Much of it is new to the stranger, so despite his Bond-style professionalism in a very shady business, he's also something of an ingenu and there are moments when he seems to be out of his depth. Combined with the potential physical danger faced by Samira - especially if she's considered to have dishonoured her family - this allows viewers to feel for them and develop an emotional connection whilst Winterbottom delivers a series of gripping action set pieces. There are fewer of these overall than some viewers might hope for but they're effectively woven into a tapestry of events that keeps the tension high.

Towards the end the film slows down; the threat becomes less physical, more existential, and Patel has room to show more of what he can do as an actor. Responses from the screening at the Toronto Film Festival suggest that this doesn't go down well with all viewers. There's more going on with this film than just the thriller aspect and it doesn't play by the rules all the way through. Some aspects of the story feel a bit undercooked, realism perhaps taking precedence over the neatness associated with the genre.

The Wedding Guest is a film with much to recommend it. If it has a major failing, it's simply that it can't live up to the scale of its own ambition.

Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2019
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The Wedding Guest packshot
The mysterious Jay leaves England and heads for Karachi, where he rents a car and buys some weapons. He plans to kidnap young Muslim woman Samira but she chooses to go with him willingly to escape an unwanted arranged marriage.

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writer: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh

Year: 2018

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Glasgow 2019

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