Inspired by real events, drama “Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma” ekes middling results from a fascinating storyline. Tale of a young gay man trying to reconstruct his identity after being left naked and beaten in a Montreal parking lot offers an intriguing mystery. But this latest feature from writer-helmer Denis Langlois (“L’Escorte”) lacks the directorial vision or arresting lead turn that would lift it above telepic-level adequacy. Bilingual French-English pic nonetheless should secure decent broadcast sales and DVD distribution in a number of territories.
Handsome, doleful-eyed, mid-20s protag (Dusan Dukic) is seen held at knifepoint by young louts in a speeding car. He is stripped, pummeled and left unconscious.
Disoriented, he awakes to find clothes scattered nearby, and istaken by police to a hospital where he spends more than a month in a psych ward under the care of a sympathetic doctor (Louise Laprade). Diagnosed with disassociative amnesia, he remembers nothing of his prior life. A few dim apparent recalls, including his name, James Brighton, lead authorities nowhere in identifying him.
“James” now decides he was — or at least now is — gay, and a local community org gets him taken in by linguistics professor Felix (Norman Helms). Felix is romantically attracted by the young man’s vulnerability. The ease with which “James” slips into being a darling of the Montreal gay club scene leads some to suspect he’s no amnesiac victim but an impostor desiring a fresh start.
Belying that negative view is James’ eagerness to be media-interviewed in hopes of being recognized by anyone who knows him. Yet worst suspicions seem confirmed when, after his story is broadcast on a U.S. tabloid-TV show, he is identified — as one Matthew Honeycutt from Tennessee, where he’s wanted for arrest on petty charges. Protag “goes home,” even though he says he still doesn’t recognize hometown or relatives, both knee-deep in Pentecostal Church culture. He does immediately remember the family dog — implying its unconditional love might lay in stark contrast to every other formative relationship.
Increasing flashback nightmares suggest psychiatric instability underlined by a disapproving religious community and tripped into breakdown by homophobic violence. But the unlikelihood that such violence brought no legal consequence robs the tentatively upbeat fade of credibility.
Memory-flashes aside, the chronologically ordered tale is framed by the present-tense inquiry of Montreal criminologist-in-training Sylvie (Karyne Lemieux), who’s decided to write her thesis paper about the “James Brighton” case. This device is OK, but pic needs a stronger cinematic style to convey the protag’s ambiguities. Instead, the film (looking a tad dark and soft in 35mm transfer) is serviceable, but pedestrian.
Puppyish Yugo-born Canadian lead Dukic’s naif performance inadvertently flags “James” as a possible liar before — and after — we should suspect him of being one. Support perfs are solid, with Steven Turpin (who played an amnesiac in 2003 Canuck indie “Saved by the Belles”) vivid in a key late support role.
Production values are pro, though the package could have used more imagination. Closing title updates the real-life amnesiac’s situation.