The Wedding Guest (Michael Winterbottom, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.
For two-thirds of its length, The Wedding Guest is a taut thriller featuring a performance from Dev Patel (Lion) unlike any we’ve seen him give before. Lean and mean, he is Jay, a predatory gunman on the prowl, stalking his prey with skill and precision. As always with Patel, however, there is more than a hint of deep intelligence and sensitivity lurking just below the surface, the latter emerging more in the film’s slower (and, unfortunately, slightly less interesting) final section. Patel is equally matched by the marvelous Radhika Apte (Madly) as Samira, a woman about to get married in a Pakistani village whom Jay abducts. Why? For that, you have to see the movie.
From the beginning, there is tension, all of it residing in Jay’s resolute face as he first lands in Lahore, Pakistan, then proceeds briskly through customs, rents a car, buys a gun, practices shooting, then rents a second car, and finally arrives at his destination. Though he speaks no Urdu, he is otherwise capable, his English accent marking him to the locals as an ex-pat come home, which is how he presents himself when he approaches the wedding party. In these early scenes, writer/director Michael Winterbottom (The Trip) reveals himself a master at cinematic covert operations, the adrenaline pouring out of his camera and straight into our amygdala. And then, even better, he completely switches gears once the dirty deed is done, sending us to India for a second act that changes the story but continues the intrigue.
If the last part of the film devolves into predictably fatalistic romance, Patel and Apte remain strong throughout, their developing rapport carrying the narrative even when it falters. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (Colette) proves adept at both close quarters and wide vistas, at night and in the day, doing justice to the natural beauty of the locations while never afraid to shoot ordinary dust and dirt, as well, when required. So much works for so long that the ending disappointment is almost an afterthought. The Wedding Guest offers enough prior party favors to make the whole affair worthwhile.