REVIEW: The Last Thing He Wanted

Rated: R
Run Time: 115 minutes
Director: Dee Rees

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.”

Willem Dafoe as Richard McMahon in The Last Thing He Wanted | NETFLIX

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.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Anne Hathaway appears in The Last Thing He Wanted | NETFLIX

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

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
About the Author
Founder of Backseat Directors. Host of The Backseat Directors Podcast, and The Mega Movie Show! Continually surprised that he's getting older and not forever 24. Quit the corporate life to pursue his passions and spend more time at home. Grateful for the talented team at Backseat Directors, and for all the incredible work they do. Lover of movies, the BYU Cougars, Amy Jane and Groucho. Let's go to the movies!

8 comments on REVIEW: The Last Thing He Wanted

  1. Nicholas Schaeffer says:

    Great review Thanks for biting the bullet so I don’t have to. I do agree with you on the benefits of streaming services movie tickets cost even more where I’m at and with popcorn being $8 and a drink being $7 it gets expensive fast

    1. Haha! Biting the bullet is what I do best. And concessions at movie theaters is OUTRAGEOUS.

  2. Rachel Ogden says:

    I’m so glad you’re with me in Camp “Anne Hathaway is a Good Actress”; prepare to be assaulted with slushies and handfuls of popcorn 🙂

    1. I’ve seen enough good performances from her to recognize her talent. I think she is unfairly criticized.

      1. Rachel Ogden says:

        Agreed! I also think she handles said criticism rather gracefully

  3. Shay says:

    Such a bummer because Dee Rees did an amazing job with Mudbound!

    1. I felt the exact same way. I thought Mud Bound was a phenomenal movie. Rees has talent. It just wasn’t displayed in this movie.

  4. CJ says:

    Few things bother more than having firepower in front of the camera and having the gun jam up.

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