The Last Thing He Wanted Review
Netflix’s first big-name narrative release of the year sees Oscar-nominated director Dees Rees working with her most starry cast to date, overseeing an investigative thriller led by Anne Hathaway and with support from the likes of Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe and Rosie Perez. But her adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel, The Last Thing He Wanted, quickly identifies itself as an incoherent mess that eventually winds its way towards delivering an early contender for one of 2020’s most ridiculous endings.
Miscast as hard-nosed journalist Elene McMahon, we follow Hathaway as she is pitched into the middle of a story she was previously investigating. For years she has been working in Nicaragua alongside photographer Alma (Rosie Perez) edging towards the unearthing of the Iran-Contra affair. But pressure from political quarters forces her to return home to report on Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election bid. Given Trump’s recent Congressional troubles you can see why Rees thought now was a good time to attempt this adaptation, but those parallels are largely ignored and Rees makes no serious attempts at drawing comparisons between the two.
Elene’s hospitalised father Richard (Dafoe) asks her to finish “one last big job” on his behalf which sees her become involved in shipping military weapons into Costa Rica. Quite why she agrees and is so willing to get in over her head remains a mystery, as does anything to do with her father’s background. In fact, before the first act is barely over you’ll be confused about who everyone is, their connection to each other and what exactly they are supposed to be doing.
That barely changes for the remainder of the film with the lack of clarity deadening any hint of tension Rees was aiming for. Things aren’t helped by the clunky dialogue that sounds as if it has been lifted directly from the pages of Didion’s novel, the kind where every member of the cast is fighting a losing battle to overcome their caricatures. Hathaway is not the only one who feels out of place in their role, with perhaps only Toby Jones (playing some sort of pleasure-seeking seaside resort owner) coming out the other end with any sort of credit.
From the opening moments of The Last Thing He Wanted, what stands out almost immediately is the choppy editing from Rees’ long-time collaborator Mako Kamitsuna. Its attempt to bring urgency instead achieves the opposite and makes the film look like an over-edited salvage job, only adding to the tangled, muddled narrative. Whether or not all has gone to plan for Rees behind the scenes remains unclear, but this is a step away from the pacing of her previous three features and it could be she is just a bad fit for this sort of material. Whatever the reasons, the end result is one everyone involved will probably want to forget ever happened.
The Last Thing He Wanted streams on Netflix from February 21.