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Adoration explores the aftermath of a public disaster

Canadian director Atom Egoyan offers another complex account of a tragedy's emotional consequences

In his best-known, most acclaimed film The Sweet Hereafter, Canadian director Atom Egoyan examined the emotional devastation of a school bus crash that claimed the lives of more than a dozen children in a small town. Rather than offer a straightforward study of grief, Egoyan approached the accident from oblique angles and fragmented time periods to provide a more complex account of a tragedy's emotional consequences.

For Adoration, Egoyan takes an even more elliptical look at a public disaster. Simon (Devon Bostick), an orphaned Canadian teenager, delivers a personal account of his parents' involvement in an act of attempted terrorism before he was born. His French teacher Sabine (Egoyan's wife and frequent leading lady Arsinée Khanjian) encourages Simon to further develop the piece, which soon becomes a flashpoint of Internet forums. Through webcams, Simon, his friends and even survivors of terrorism argue such points as "What's so seductive about being a victim?"

Rachel Blanchard and Noam Jenkins play Simon's parents in scenes that initially seem to be flashbacks, but could be completely imaginary. Appearances seldom conform to reality in Egoyan's work, and Simon and Sabine both pursue hidden agendas that complicate the life of Simon's guardian and uncle, Tom (Scott Speedman). An underachieving tow-truck driver, Tom still bears the emotional scars of his abusive, bigoted father (Kenneth Welsh).

Egoyan can be enormously effective at presenting an initial enigma and gradually revealing the truth and different layers of meaning, and the nuanced performances from Bostick and Khanjian give the film a rich emotional texture. The director's skills with ambiguity falter when simmering tensions boil over into outright confrontations, which have an over-thought artificiality. Plus, Welsh's role serves as a too convenient bad guy who oversimplifies the problems of prejudice and evil, letting the rest of the characters off the hook.

Nevertheless, Adoration's themes of online communities, digital imagery, and terrorism prove comparable to the work of novelist Don DeLillo, who also explores the lives of contemporary North Americans alienated by the powerful forces of modernity. For an account of wrecked lives and hard feelings, the title Adoration almost seems like a misnomer, or at least an ideal that can seldom be realized.