It’s not often I finish watching a movie and walk away scratching me head trying to understand what the two hours were all about… And it’s a shame, really. I mean, should I be more upset about the outcome of a film with such a highly regarded group of actors, or the fact that I spent two hours watching a movie that made little to no sense by the end? I still haven’t quite decided…
These are the moments in which I am happy that seeing a new movie didn’t require me to spend any additional money on a movie ticket and a 10-minute drive to the theater (where I would have inevitably purchased popcorn and a drink, and now I’m out $20 for a movie and snacks). This is why I enjoy Netflix and other streaming services so much: the risk factor of seeing a movie is mitigated when I don’t have to invest so much of my time and money in a film that I might not enjoy. Like any other movie studio, you have your gems, and you have your fodder. Netflix is no exception. Sometimes you strike gold (see: ROMA, The Two Popes, The King), and sometimes you get something that has all the makings of a good movie, but you’re just left feeling unsatisfied (see: Triple Frontier).
The Last Thing He Wanted (adapted from the novel of the same name) begins as a 1980’s geo-political drama surrounding The United States’ controversial involvement in the Nicaraguan Civil War. Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway), a reporter for the Washington Post, is driven by her desire to break the next big story of the CIA’s involvement in the Contra/Sandinista conflict. Her passion for discovering and exposing the truth is the driving force behind her career, even at the cost of her personal safety and family life. Hathaway’s character is set up well in the beginning of the film within this storyline. And this storyline seems to set up the movie on a solid path of political intrigue and drama. But this is where I am supposed to tell you, “Not so fast.”
The moment you meet Richard McMahon (Willem Dafoe) the entire movie shifts. The only thing that carries over from Act 1 to Act 2 are the same characters. I was ready for the geo-political and historical drama setup from Act 1; I was ready for the movie to get messy in the secretive machinations of the CIA during the early 80’s. What I wasn’t ready for (or even expecting) was for the movie to take us down a path of confusing family drama involving illegal weapon-smuggling, and non-sensical love affairs. I genuinely wish I understood better what this movie was about, and the story it was trying to tell. No doubt there is a story behind the confusing plot points and all of Elena McMahon’s first-person narrations. I just wish I knew. But even more so, I just wish that Wikipedia was updated with the plot explanation so I could figure out how to actually make sense of this movie.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on this movie—maybe one day in the future I’ll take some time to revisit this movie (although, unlikely) and see if I can’t have a better experience on my second attempt. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high for the film when I saw who was playing in it. I might be one of the few people in the world that genuinely believes Anne Hathaway to be a talented actress. Put her in the right role and she has proven to have star potential. Ben Affleck and Willem Dafoe are A-list type actors. These are seasoned professionals. Affleck’s performance was the most disappointing out of the three. But how much can acting talent overcome such a poor screenplay? When it comes to the quality of movies, I view them in the same way I view sports. You have a coach (director), assistants (writers), and the players (actors). Some players are generational talents and can instantly make any team they are on a good, competitive team—some actors are the same way. They have the ability to elevate a movie from bad to decent, or even enjoyable. But for me, I’ve always considered coaches and assistants (directors and writers) to be even more influential of a team’s success than the actual players (actors) themselves. This seems to be the case for The Last Thing He Wanted. A collection of talent on screen that just does not ever translate into a winning team. Which is too bad—the movie had potential.
Recommendation: SKIP IT