In ‘The Wedding Guest,’ a Kidnapping Turns to Greed, Betrayal and Murder
British director Michael Winterbottom’s newest film, “The Wedding Guest,” begins with a quick series of shots as a young British Muslim man Jay (Dev Patel) packs for a trip. Except for two small details, it could be anyone packing for a journey anywhere. Instead, he hides a passport deep in the well of his suitcase. And then he leaves his cell phone behind in a dresser drawer. He catches his plane and quickly lands in Lahore, Pakistan.
Why he’s flown to Pakistan and just what his intentions are will take the course of the next 30 minutes to begin to find out, only then to be replaced by one mystery and unexpected revelation after another. This is a story where nothing is simple, and no explanation is straightforward. “The Wedding Guest” could best be described as film noir set in the wide open Wild West of Pakistan, where foreigners can step into a well-stocked gun shop in a small village and buy any handgun they want, no questions asked.
Patel portrays a man who has been hired to kidnap Pakistani bride Samira (Radhika Apte) before her marriage. Initially, at least, his purpose is to reunite her with her true love Deepesh (Jim Sarbh). But events don’t play out as well as expected. There is death, betrayal and greed — and briefly, romance.
Directing from his own screenplay, Winterbottom doles out the exposition sparingly. Jay kidnaps the young bride and then we find out why. She goes along without protest and then we find out why. Motivation behind each plot point is on a need to know basis only. In this way, the audience is kept guessing until the very end. All three of the main characters start their journey with one expectation. All three end it very differently.
Patel portrayed another man on his own personal journey in the 2016 film “Lion.” But that was a very different kind of quest. Patel has also recently shown up on the lists of possible Daniel Craig replacements for a future James Bond. “The Wedding Guest” is closer in spirit to that. He leaps over walls, fires guns, drives fast, and is convincing in bed. Patel’s portrayal of Jay may not be high-end spy stuff, but it’s a decent try.
Director Michael Winterbottom is hard to pin down to any single style. He has made documentaries, the latest being “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with Russell Brand, he has directed episodic television and the occasional feature. But even those features demonstrate variety. His political thriller “Welcome to Sarajevo” has little in common with his “The Trip” movies where Winterbottom follows actors Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden around as they see the sights, eat local cuisine and have great conversation. With “The Wedding Guest,” Winterbottom has his sights focused on the ennui of crime.
Coming in around an hour and a half, “The Wedding Guest” is a fast-paced and moody journey. It is a noir-ish tale of the fantasies that possess our dreams and the reality that informs our choices.
“The Wedding Guest” opens March 1 in select theaters.