It is clear that from the start, the Anne Hathaway starring The Last Thing He Wanted wants to be something special, something impressive. It wants to be a conspiracy thriller, but does it? It wants to be a riff on governmental corruption, not only in the 1980s but today, only it can’t quite push through the fog of confused plotting, bad acting and nonsense dialogue to be a whole lot of anything. To witness a film with grand hopes and even grander ideals collapse under the weight of so many poor choices is disappointing but thanks to a nonsense script, its hard to imagine why they started filming in the first place.
When reporter Elena McMahon’s (Hathaway) absentee father Dick (Willem Dafoe) falls ill in the middle of a big deal, his daughter takes the job on, partly for the hidden story but also for her dad. However when the deal takes an unexpected turn and Elena is forced to react as she is left stranded in a foreign country the real players involved begin to emerge as she hunts for the truth and a way back to safety.
Directed by Dee Rees who after the success of Mudbound has made a name for herself as a new and interesting voice. While it is hard to ignore the attempts at original thought here, there is such a thing as too original. The Last Thing He Wanted is bookended by two speeches, the kind of scene setting narrations that are designed to not only set the scene but the tone at the beginning and remind you of how you should be feeling by the end. Both are undecipherable drivel, the stoned ramblings of a crazy person.
Designed as Elena’s high brow intellectual writings, the Pulitzer prize winning essay on corruption and oppression is central and south America that will blow the roof off whichever newspaper runs it. In reality, no newspaper ever would. Written by Rees and Marco Villalobos, their film is one of drifters, grifters and survivors but all of these classifications and definitions are weighed down by all of these characters endless desire to look and sound cool by pointlessly missing words off sentences or needlessly threatening people for the sake of…pacing?
Early on in the films run, Dafoe’s Dick meets his daughter in a bar. Their first interaction in years, a mixture of spiteful biting at each other as he ignores his own faults. It is the closest the film gets to feeling relevant or understandable, that unconditional love that often feels a lot like hate almost hides the fact that Dick is a plot device in search of a personality and Elena is somebody else’s soapbox, a ‘strong independent woman’ in a world where that definition is unbearably sexist.
In fact that might be the films glaring fault, in that all its characters are driven to do things and say things based off what is expected of them, not because it is in their nature. At no point during The Last Thing He Wanted’s bloated 115 minutes do people act as people. This makes the notion of paranoia about the threats and forces hiding behind the curtain somewhat pointless. The idea that something bad could happen at any moment doesn’t really matter when you can’t decipher what the hell is going on or who these people are in the first place.
Stacked with an impressive cast who seem just as confused as the rest of us, Hathaway tries to steer us through with a performance that is unfortunately all over the place. Her Elena is principled one second and bankrupt the next, fearless and focused one moment and tormented the next. Often happening within the same scene, its hard to find a way to fault a performance marred by equally disappointing direction.
It’s a crying shame as well as its an equisitely filmed picture, one full of stark imagery including the unwitting casualties of forgotten revolutions to the lavish indulgence of men and women controlling the bloodshed from thousands of miles away. Rees has an eye for juxtaposition and if her images were backed up by a script willing to simplify its story for the sake of the audiences sanity, The Last Thing He Wanted would be a poignant picture. Instead it pontificated and condescends by speechifying, never backing it up with answers, the proof we are so often denied in today’s journalism as well.
Garish in the wrong ways, empassioned without the context to back it up and unbearably slow, regrettably The Last Thing He Wanted lives up to its title, and then some.