Released: 29th May (2018)
Seen: 21st November (Lift Off Film Festival)
Sometimes you can tell everything about a movie just by a basic description of its genre and the descriptive term “Your average”. For example, if I said to you that The Prowler was your average 80s Slasher then you would have a good idea of what to expect from that movie. You automatically picture certain visual style, acting choices and even setting and as long as the movie hits those notes it’s fine. It might not be great but it’s fine. Well, The Last Witness is your average post-WW2 movie set in Britain. It delivers what you expect, but that’s about it.
The Last Witness focuses on a journalist named Stephen Underwood (Alex Pettyfer) who has noticed a strangely large number of suicides by Polish soldiers. Curious, and ignoring the orders of his boss Frank Hamilton (Michael Gambon), Stephen begins investigating the suicides. His investigation will lead him to uncover one of the worst massacres of the Second World War, one that could change the way certain foreign powers are viewed by the world if this story was to ever get out into the public… which explains why so many people are now desperately trying to keep the story suppressed.
The story that’s being told is a personal one for the director, his grandfather being one of the people who was murdered in this grotesque massacre and I would love more than anything to tell you that this personal connection to the material shines through and makes the work powerful but oh god it’s dull. It’s deliriously dull, which I shouldn’t be able to say about a film about a horrific real-world massacre. If anyone in this film had any connection whatsoever to those who were lost, it’s never visible on the screen. Everything just feels so standard, so basic, this is exactly the film that one expects to see when they see a film set during the war. It’s got everything from the muted colour tone to the understated acting choices and every second of it is just kind of boring, which I loathe saying since I know that this film was made to honour relatives lost in a vicious act.
It’s not helped by the acting that is perfunctory at best. Alex Pettyfer is just woefully uninteresting which is a shame because he’s been engaging in the past, notably when he was in Magic Mike (the first one, that wasn’t actually that good beyond the performances of the cast) but here the most interesting thing about his performance is the strange scar they’d put by his eye for no reason other than to attempt to make the pretty man a little less pretty. It’s just painful seeing him seemingly stumble from scene to scene. In general all the actors just don’t really do anything worthy of notice, except Michael Gambon but that’s only because he’s Michael Gambon and it’s literally impossible for him to do anything other than stand out, especially when he’s surrounded by people who aren’t even close to matching what he’s doing.
There is exactly one scene where everything seemed to work and fortunately, it’s the scene where they finally hear from the witness and learn about the massacre. That scene is where everything works, it’s effectively shocking and puts the horrors of the massacre into sharp focus for exactly 5 minutes and then we’re back to the bland flavourless WWII film that we’ve had. It’s almost as if the film is fighting against itself, fighting its urge to be interesting and scream out “LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED” because it has to obey the rules of a genre piece. I’d love to have spent more time learning about these 22,000 massacred soldiers but gosh darn it, I have to sit here while a strange love triangle goes on and the main character’s home is ransacked by cops who were sent to get the important piece of evidence that he held in there… just let me be shocked and horrified for another minute, please.
The film also doesn’t stick with you as well as a film about a massacre really should. I watched this film roughly 3 days before I had the chance to sit down to write this piece and I swear large chunks are just a blur of muted greys and English accents. There’s one memorable scene but even that is slowly fading from my mind and keep in mind I still can vividly recall several scenes from films I saw way back in January. How do you get to be less memorable than goddamn Green Book?
The Last Witness isn’t offensive or shocking, it’s not mean spirited or even that bad. It’s perfunctory, it’s filling in the scorecard on your typical British post World War 2 film and doing the bare minimum one expects from a film like that. It’s not even that I wouldn’t recommend it, I certainly think there is some artistic value in making a film that raises awareness of a massacre that happened during the war, specifically the Katyn Massacre but now that I’ve named the massacre, you could just go read the Wikipedia page on it and it’d probably be more interesting and memorable than this film was. It’s not that the film is bad, it’s what I expected… I expected to be bored, and I was.