Director Michael Winterbottom has had a brilliant career exploring wanderlust. His travel comedies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, The Trip, The Trip to Italy, and The Trip to Spain, were whimsical and humorous adventures. His latest film, The Wedding Guest, continues the globetrotting, but is much darker thematically. Pakistan and India are the focus of his Bonnie and Clyde-esque thriller. The lean characters, swift pacing, and vibrant settings are entertaining. The Wedding Guest goes south, literally and figuratively, when the mystery elements wane in the third act.
The film opens in England with a deadly serious traveler (Dev Patel) at the airport. He flies to Pakistan where he rents a car and drives to a remote village. Along the way he buys guns, duct tape, and plastic restraining ties. He doesn't speak Punjabi, requiring the locals to translate. The mystery man arrives at the wedding of a prominent family's daughter (Radhika Apte). He claims to be a relative, eating dinner, and mingling with the other guests. His true intentions are revealed later that night when he kidnaps the bride. He gags, restrains, and then covers her face before locking her in his trunk. As he drives off with his captive, his motives are still unknown.
The Wedding Guest holds your attention firmly in the first two acts. The kidnapper is a professional. He constantly changes cars, phones, and appearances. You're glued to the screen as he takes the bride through the dusty and bustling streets of Pakistan, then India. Michael Winterbottom shoots Dev Patel up close and with long tracking shots. It's almost like walking behind the lead character throughout the entire film. The Wedding Guest carries Dev Patel and Radhika Apte by foot, cars, buses, and trains. They are constantly on the run. We're completely immersed in the environment as the plot thickens.
The big reveal behind the kidnapping is fairly straightforward. What happens next turns down the escapist fun. The characters, who we never get more than an inch to their backstory, become somewhat blase. The excitement built up by their frenetic movement isn't carried into the finale. The ending makes sense, but is a letdown. I'll liken it to being on a rollercoaster going up the tracks, building tension, but going sideways instead of down.
The Wedding Guest works as a thriller and exploration of Pakistan and India. Dev Patel plays the quiet tough guy well. His character has zero exposition, but that isn't a problem in the context of the story. He has chemistry with Radhika Apte, who doesn't come into her own until the third act; which I found disappointing. The Wedding Guest earns a recommendation, but leaves you wanting more. The Wedding Guest is distributed by IFC Films and will be available in limited release on March 1st.