I genuinely cannot remember the last time I saw a film this incomprehensible. For all its twists and turns, attractive locations, impressive cast, and respectable presentation, The Last Thing He Wanted is incredibly hard to follow and, honestly, a complete mess.
Based on the original novel, the film follows a determined and headstrong journalist (Anne Hathaway) who gets involved in an arms deal in Central America. Having seen the film and subsequently read various synopses online, I still struggle to describe this plot.
To get the positives out of the way, the main cast gives decent performances (with the material they’re given), with only some poor delivery from minor side-characters. Hathaway is strong as the lead, selling her character’s determination and intelligence, which contrast well with moments of vulnerability. Willem Dafoe is reliably strong, Ben Affleck and Rosie Perez are serviceable, and Toby Jones is… interesting. However, by far the most memorable supporting performance is found in Edi Gathegi. Alongside this, direction and presentation are commendable thanks to director Dee Rees and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski. Although everything seems to be unnecessarily overlaid with a red filter, it’s always nice to look at, whether it be the exotic locales or the mundane interiors of 1980’s offices : shot composition and deft camera movements are undeniably praiseworthy.
Unfortunately, the script makes the film nearly unwatchable. The primary symptom of this is the unnecessarily convoluted and – for lack of a better term – ‘overcooked’ dialogue. While I applaud an attempt to refrain from spoon-feeding the plot, the conversations in this largely dialogue-driven film are excessively indirect and vague. Plot developments unfold and character choices are made without any decipherable understanding as to why, leaving the viewer to begrudgingly accept them ‘just because’. In trying too hard to make the script clever, the writers seem to have lost sight of ensuring any chance of the audience’s ability to follow the narrative.
I say that as someone who consciously pays attention to films, as opposed to simply half-viewing them in the background. Considering the effort I was investing into trying to follow the plot, the few and fleeting instances when I was actually able to do so resulted in my genuine interest and intrigue. Though that may just have been the law of contrasts working its magic, since a single moment of clarity is a ray of sunshine amidst an eternity of confusion in this film. Needless to say, if someone randomly chose this as a casual Friday-night watch, I cannot even fathom how lost and bored they would be.
And indeed, that is the ultimate problem here: boredom. Not only does the film take about 20 minutes of an equally unclear introduction before the main plot kicks in, the constant convolution prevents any genuine investment in the characters’ plights or narrative. Add to that a snail-like pace and you’re left with a film that has an interesting plot on paper, is well-acted and presented, but ultimately leaves you with a total sense of passivity.
The Last Thing He Wanted is a total misfire, which is especially unfortunate considering the visible effort that seems to have been put in for this film. Not even falling into the so-bad-it’s-good category, it is impossible to recommend, except as perhaps a case study of how not to write (and in this case, adapt) your screenplay.
Image: Mireille Ampilhac via Wikipedia