A veteran D.C. journalist (Anne Hathaway) loses the thread of her own story when an errand for her dying father (Willem Dafoe) turns her from author to unwitting subject in the story she’s trying to break.
Political thrillers come quite often it seems. Throughout the years, we have been blessed with some gratefully emotionally investing and interesting films in this genre such as Steven Spielberg’s The Post, George Clooney’s The Ides of March, and my personal favorite of the past couple years, Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies.
But to be honest, we haven’t really had a great political thriller in at least a couple of years. It is a shame because, with the right screenwriter and director attached, political thrillers can be some of the best films of the year.
Dee Rees is a director who I greatly admire. Although she has not directed a whole of films, the films that she has directed up until this point have all been greatly impressive, namely 2017’s Mudbound, which was a favorite among critics when it was released and was even nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.
However, her latest feature The Last Thing He Wanted is nowhere near as good as her previous efforts. In fact, it is the first movie directed by Rees that I would flat out say is bad. It is a film that falls flat in virtually every way possible, but particularly in the way it tells its complex story that ultimately leads nowhere with an unsatisfying conclusion.
Throughout the course of the film, we jump between different time periods rather rapidly. The opening sequence alone jumps between different days and we are never really given any time to breathe and follow the story in an easy and coherent way. A large portion of the dialogue written by Marco Villalobos and Rees feels empty and lifeless in a way that has never happened before in Rees’ films. Usually, her films are rich with interesting and moving dialogue that propels the story forwards.
The characters in Mudbound are ones that were deeply interesting and you felt sympathy for them. Their motivations were one hundred percent clear. With The Last Thing He Wanted, we got long sequences filled with expository dialogue that feels like the two wrote it thinking it was smarter than it actually was. Confusing, bland, and lazy are just a few words that would best describe the screenplay here.
As a whole though, that’s really the film’s biggest issue – it’s a thriller that’s not thrilling. It’s a nearly two-hour picture that feels longer than that even, due to the fact that there is never a time in the screenplay where anything all that exciting happens. There are a couple of scenes that feel like they could be going in a great direction, but they ultimately fizzle out being bland and uninspired like the rest of the film.
In terms of the positives here, the acting on display is pretty great for the most part. Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway are at the front and center of The Last Thing He Wanted, and while the characters that they played were not all that interesting to follow, their performances were strong. It’s rare when Affleck and Hathaway have an acting misstep, and this is gratefully not a misstep in terms of their acting. Everybody else does a good job here as well, particularly Rosie Perez and Willem Dafoe in smaller roles. I wish they would have gotten more to do than spew expository dialogue.
It’s also a decently shot picture by Bobby Bukowski. It does not contain some of the best cinematography of the year or anything of the sort, but in terms of presenting things in a gritty and stylish way, it did the trick.
But at the end of the day, The Last Thing He Wanted has an abundance of problems, mainly relating to its script. It has some good aspects to it as well such as the performances and the camerawork, but as a whole, it is a film that feels bland and dull which is all the more disappointing since it was helmed by such a talented filmmaker.
The Last Thing He Wanted has an incoherent screenplay with poor character development and lacks in entertainment value. It’s a thriller with no thrills.
Overall Grade: D+
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence, disturbing images, and brief nudity
Directed by: Dee Rees
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: February 21, 2020 (United States)
Running Time: 120 minutes