A dauntingly lengthy watch with minimal payoff that may very well make you wonder if this film was actually the last thing you wanted.
The Last Thing He Wanted (Netflix) tells the story of tormented reporter Elena, a hard-headed journalist that will stop at nothing to get the story she needs. Veteran journalist Elena is in the midst of uncovering a scandal that may expose the US government as allies to the anti-communist Contras of Nicaragua. In the height of her journalistic success, Elena is suddenly allocated a different story, the scandal desk is ‘frozen’ as her paper is told to step back or face the consequences of upsetting the wrong people. Meanwhile Elena’s ex-con Dad enlists her help to run a dangerous errand; unbeknown to Elena, this job is directly involved with the controversial story she had originally planned to expose.
With Oscar-nominated director Dees Rees on-board, The Last Thing He Wanted was quite expectantly doused with high hopes and great expectations as the talented Dee Rees has proven herself before. With a star-studded cast and immaculate cinematography, surely the movie has everything it needs to be entertaining and provocative. Unfortunately, neither of those words can be used to describe The Last Thing He Wanted, as an incoherent narrative and lackluster direction combine to create a quite unexpectedly arduous watch. The Last Thing He Wanted is sophisticated and clean-cut but fails to grab any kind of attention, as the script is filled with exposition that becomes convoluted and difficult to follow.
The story begins to ‘take off’ when Elena decides to finish one last job for her father, a confused, dementia ridden ex-con that has no reservations about sending his daughter directly into danger. For reasons not so clear, Elena is happy to travel to Costa Rica, becoming involved in a high-risk illegal arms deal. This is where intentions and direction become increasingly confused as Elena’s motives are left vague and unexplained. Audiences are left perplexed that Elena doesn’t seem perturbed by the circumstances she willingly puts herself into. Then again, a viewer may choose to see Elena as a self-destructive, tortured soul, out to personally bring down the man and provoke the US government. Unfortunately, this kind of self-proclaimed hero type doesn’t seem to fit Elena’s mold, her relentlessly pitiful view of herself and the world borders on cringe, making her difficult to empathize with.
Elena is played by Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, a usually energetic and powerful actress, that is known to fill the shoes of the most troubled characters. Unfortunately, this time around Hathaway fails to show her strengths as Elena becomes dreary and unlikable with her inherently resentful attitude about life. The movie begins with a gloomy Elena explaining how ‘we were younger, I was younger’ which one would assume comes with it a promise of youthful energy and passion, quality audiences seldom get to see. Alongside Hathway, Ben Affleck plays diplomate Treat Morrison, a character that can be described as the epitome of lifelessness. Affleck’s stale performance is lackluster and uninspired, showing the emotional range of a cardboard box. The pair’s energy is anything but passionate and their chemistry is completely void of any sexual tension or motivation.
On the other hand, Willem Defoe plays Elena’s repulsively charismatic father Richard, an ex gun-runner that doesn’t know the meaning of retirement. Defoe offers a chaotic look into an ex-con who has lost the ability to be secretive or inconspicuous. Rose Perez plays Elena’s coworker Alma, a no-nonsense photographer that offers audiences moments of clarity and direction. Perez brings moments of relief, not being held back by the overtly dismal cloak of misery that the other characters seem to carry. Defoe and Perez are saving graces in a film full of one dimensional, static characters that can offer no more than the weight of their pasts or the spiritless journeys of their present.
Overall, The Last Thing He Wanted is reluctantly elaborate whilst being too confused and directionless to actually offer a film worth watching. The camera work is commendable and offers moments of brief, yet mature cinematography. It is just unfortunate that the script misses the mark, failing to keep audiences engaged as it throws too much detail and information in a way that is difficult to follow. The Last Thing He Wanted is a cloak-and-dagger chase that never sells the sense of danger or tension even in the face of devastating violence and destruction. The movie’s use of gruesome imagery leaves audiences momentarily unsettled, yet feels little more than a shock tactic, which again adds nothing of value but a limited juncture of discomfort. The novel of the same name offers readers a take on the exposure of the fickleness of the US government, the movie on the other hand simply provides a monotonous narrative that loses its way, struggling to take meaningful hold.
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Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.