Kudos to any film that attempts to eschew traditional storytelling conventions. The success rate in telling a compelling story in that manner is low, but the rewards can be high if done well. City of Your Final Destination is one of those brave films. Unfortunately, it isn’t successful. There are too many extraneous details while important factors are missing. On the bright side, while audiences won’t necessarily be moved by the film, there are moments of genuine enjoyment to be had once viewers acclimate to the slow pace and banter.
Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally) is a graduate student at the University of Colorado. He’s not very assertive and is a little whiny as well. The shortcomings in his personality are further highlighted by his domineering girlfriend, Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara). In order for Omar to maintain his financial aid for his fellowship, he has to write an authorized biography of deceased Latin American author Jules Gund. Unfortunately for Omar, the Gund estate rejects his request. Deirdre convinces Omar to go to Uruguay and convince the Gund estate members to authorize the biography. The task is made doubly difficult since the Gund family has a complex history and not everyone is agreeable. Gund’s brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins) is happy to give his authorization, but Gund’s widow, Caroline (Laura Linney) is not. Adding a touch of absurdity to the situation is Gund’s mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who also lives on the compound and has an awkward relationship with Caroline.
City of Your Final Destination is challenging to watch mainly because the protagonist, Omar, isn’t strong. Rather than affecting the plot with his actions, he’s constantly reacting to what the other characters do and say. He even disappears for a quarter of the film, leaving audiences to look for another character to keep the story moving forward. On the other hand, the antagonist is very obvious. Caroline is really the only one that needs convincing before Omar can get his authorization. Unfortunately, her reason for holding out is suspect – she gives a reason, but it doesn’t seem genuine and doesn’t jell with the proposed solution later in the film. So without a protagonist that’s willing to take action and without an antagonist that presents clearly defined obstacles, City of Your Final Destination sometimes descends into people-just-doing-things territory, which is rarely satisfying to watch.
The performances are generally good overall. Despite being a milquetoast character, Omar Metwally plays Omar very well. His uncertainty and beta male personality feel very natural here. Alexandria Maria Lara turns in the best performance of the entire cast. Her Deirdre is the only character that could actually exist outside of the story and in the real world. She is aggressively practical and that defining characteristic pervades Lara’s performance, making her a bit off-putting, but fun to watch nonetheless. As for Laura Linney and Anthony Hopkins, it’s hard to tell if they didn’t give much thought to their characters or if they were hamstrung by poor writing and/or direction. Hopkins is almost forgettable as the urbane Adam. His emotions barely fluctuate even during endearing moments with his gay partner. Linney’s Caroline is even more of an oddity. Her behavior is unnatural and affected and her manner of speaking is very stilted. It’s the kind of performance that’s better suited to the stage.
Fortunately, the languid setting of Uruguay helps make the film more palatable. The lush scenery and ever changing weather is the perfect backdrop to the glacial conversations. At times it’s easy to feel the slow pace of warm afternoons, whiling away the hours with idle chitchat. Those serene moments, however, just aren’t compelling enough of a reason to sit through this movie.