There has been continued debate about the slew of original film projects that Netflix has produced over the last few years, particularly as their slate is becoming more expansive and diverse. Recently, of course, The Irishman, Marriage Story, and Dolemite Is My Name have garnered much acclaim whilst smaller films like To All The Boys I Loved Before and Set It Up have filled the rom-com hole that has formed recently. On the other side, the platform has been seen as something of a last chance saloon to get films financed and seen despite whatever shortcomings they may have.
Fresh from the Sundance Film Festival comes The Last Thing He Wanted, the latest from acclaimed director Dee Rees whose last film, Mudbound, found its home on Netflix and have continued their relationship for this political thriller. On the surface, it seems like another shrewd decision, in reality, however, it’s anything but.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Joan Didion, Rees’ latest tells the story of Washington Post reporter Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) who after covering events in Nicaragua in a post-Vietnam America, is pulled away from the escalating tensions of the Iran-Contra and moved to cover the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale which is ramping up. Disengaged with the campaigns and frustrated with her lack of acknowledgements amongst the camps, Elena gets an out when her semi-detached dad (Willem Dafoe) falls ill and asks her for a favour: to help him with his final “big score” which involves arming Costa Rica with military-grade weapons. Reluctantly – and ridiculously – Elena agrees.
Ridiculously, or ridiculous, is a word that’s quite apt when discussing The Last Thing He Wanted as quite frankly for the most part that is exactly what it is, frustratingly so especially given that it starts so promisingly. It felt like trying to solve one of those sliding puzzle games that used to deter so many contestants on The Crystal Maze: every move creating more problems, every slide creating more of a confused and undecipherable mess until you throw up your hands and say “sod it, it’s unsolvable”.
As it moves from one set piece to the next, you continue to ask yourself why the characters make such ludicrous decisions and what their aims are, the film meandering along without any shred of real drama, humanity or suspense, leaving you feeling bewildered in its chaotic maelstrom wondering how it all could go so horribly wrong.
Mudbound was such a raw, emotionally potent and memorable piece of cinema but even Rees’ usual prowess falls short here, lost in its choppy, Bourne-like editing, stagnant script and truly unremarkable dialogue, and while you can see her notable talents peaking its head out in some moments, this is certainly a misjudgement across the board but such is her originality as a filmmaker, she will bounce back.
Indeed, the stellar cast is wasted here with only Dafoe coming out without too many scars whilst Affleck tries hard but like his tenure as Batman, is given yet another short shift. There’s something of a strange irony with Hathaway in that of all the stinkers she has been part of recently, it’s the preposterous yet gleefully entertaining Serenity that comes out as her “best”. Who would have believed that a year ago?
Crime, Mystery | USA, 2020 | 15 | 21st February 2020 | Netflix Original | Dir.Dee Rees | Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, Willem Dafoe, Edi Gathegi, Toby Jones