Released: 27th January
Seen: 5th May
So, while I’m still learning how to effectively write these reviews, I have slowly developed a system that works for me. After I do the first paragraph (usually designed to be just eye-catching enough that if you were to scroll through my main page that it might make you want to know more) I will then stop and think about how to describe the plot. I might have IMDB open to remind me of character and actor names but I can usually come up with a decent enough plot synopsis that doesn’t give away more than I need to in order to get you to know just what kind of movie I’m talking about. The plot synopsis is always a quick thing for me, I try to keep it short and sweet because if you want a proper plot synopsis then Wikipedia is in the next tab over. I add it for context and little more than that… this time? I’m tempted to skip it because the plot is so poorly constructed that even just adding it for context feels pointless but it’s my structure now so I feel obligated to try.
Based on the novel of the same name by Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted follows news reporter Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) who was doing some real journalism before some bad things happened and she ends up being pulled off that and put onto the job of handling presidential election coverage. Apparently handling the 1984 election between Reagan and Mondale would be too boring so, in order to create a new plotline, her crazy father Richard (Willem Dafoe) turns up and needs some help both medically (even though at worst he just seems eccentric, barely even looks like he has a cold) and financially. See, Richard was an arms dealer selling arms to the Contras who you might know from their legendary team up with Iran and Oliver North, and needs Elena to go in his place. Thus begins what I believe was originally intended to be some kind of political thriller but that implies that they make use of politics or thrills so you can see where the problem begins.
To this films credit, it has a good cast. Anne Hathaway is pretty much always going to give 110%, even when she’s in actual garbage, Willem Dafoe is a scene-stealer no matter what he does and Ben Affleck exists and appears on camera for a period of time that apparently allows him to be put on the poster. The actors are good and all clearly tried their hardest with what they were given, I could honestly see this cast appearing in an actual movie together and it being a great time but they ended up appearing in this… whatever we’re going to call this. Do I need to call this a film? Is that essential? Can we just call it a series of images that moves because calling it a film feels kind of demoralising?
Despite how basic I made the plot sound when describing it, I promise you that the actual execution of it is just awful. This film doesn’t do twists so much as it just decides something completely stupid has to happen out of nowhere, especially at the end. You know a film has really messed up telling you anything about the characters when an hour in a small child pops up on screen and the reaction is to go “Oh, so you have a child now… when the hell did they turn up?” and then the child has no relevance whatsoever. Yeah, the main character is a mom and it matters for exactly none of the film. When Elena goes to get the money for her dad, the only reason she stays on the island is to get a story… she can literally leave any time, but she wants a story. They never seem to actually deal with the Contras or Oliver North or any of the actual issues surrounding the Iran Contra scandal, it spends more time having Elena worrying about her dad and just kind of moving around randomly.
The few moments where they try to do things that you might see in a thriller (like being in a car with someone suspicious or a gunfight in a hotel) it ends up falling flat every single time. You can see them trying, going through and doing the things that one expects of films in this genre but something about it just doesn’t work. I’ve never yawned during a gunfight until today but that’s what one of the big battles made me feel. Hell, there’s a big twist near the end that didn’t feel like a twist, it felt like the film just betrayed the audience for the sake of a cheap surprise because that’s what other thrillers do, right? Of course, the film forgot that other thrillers are also thrilling which doesn’t help.
It’s also just terminally boring, to the point where I considered taking a nap during it. Don’t close your eyes for too long though because even while it’s boring, it’s so misshapen that turning out for three seconds makes you feel like you’ve missed some important detail. It’s at that point that I felt lucky to be watching a movie on Netflix cos I can rewind and catch a thing I missed but when I did that I realised that I hadn’t missed anything, the film is just so badly written that it feels like you’re missing things when the reality is that the film itself missed them. It can’t give me the details I need to follow and it’s so boring that even if it did, I wouldn’t have cared. I don’t know how you make the goddamn Iran-Contra scandal boring but that’s what happened here.
The Last Thing He Wanted is just bad. It’s not thrilling, it avoids politics like it just saw politics coughing into its elbow and just doesn’t work. Good actors and occasionally interesting shot choices can maybe be interesting if you divorce them from the context of “Being in this really bad film” but they aren’t enough to salvage anything useful. At best it just makes you wish they put this much effort into actually making a good movie instead of whatever this is. It’s two hours long and felt like four, thank god it’s over and I never have to sit through it again.