The team of Merchant-Ivory is legendary for having created cinematic masterpieces. In films such as "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day," they dazzled audiences with lush camerawork and intense in-depth character studies. "The City of Your Final Destination" is the first time James Ivory has directed a film without his deceased partner, Ismail Merchant, and he seems severely crippled without him.
Longtime Merchant-Ivory screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has adapted Peter Cameron's novel and she, too, has lost that dynamic element which was so prevalent in their previous films. As the story goes, graduate student Omar (Omar Metwally of "Rendition") receives a grant to write the biography of renowned author Jules Gund who committed suicide midway through penning his second novel. But Gund's executors deny Omar authorization to write the book. In hopes of changing their minds, he shows up, unannounced on the family's doorstep in Uruguay.
I found it ridiculously incredible that, subsequently, the Gunds allow Omar to move in with them given their refusal to access him any information. This being the premise for the plot, the film starts out on an extremely weak note and remains there until the end.
Even a gifted cast of incredible actors can't save this feeble story. They include Laura Linney ("Kinsey") as Gund's widow; Sir Anthony Hopkins (aka Hannibal Lecter) as the brother; and Charlotte Gainsbourg ("21 Grams") as Gund's mistress and mother of his very young daughter. All of the characters are one-dimensional (due to the scripting, not talent), stuck in situations of their own choosing. I could have cared less about any of them.
Ivory tries hard to maintain his hallmark reputation by employing sweeping cinematography and sumptuous scores, but it's not enough. Sir Tony, pitch-perfect as ever, gave me the eerie feeling he was helping out an old friend by gracing this faltering film with his lofty presence.
"The City of Your Final Destination" is an awful title, and I didn't quite grasp the meaning. I was so hoping that Mr. Ivory was up to the task of making another outstanding film even without the gifted Mr. Merchant. Sadly, I walked out of the theater mourning the passing of a brilliant collaboration.
— Pam Nadon