‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ is un­thrilling

Antelope Valley Press - - SHOWCASE - By MARK KENNEDY AP En­ter­tain­ment Writer

Not too deep into the Net­flix film “The Last Thing He Wanted,” the spunky hero­ine is given a warn­ing: “Buckle up. It’s gonna be ba­nanas.” It’s ad­vice that checks out. It’s def­i­nitely ba­nanas, but not in a pleas­ant way.

Dee Rees has stum­bled badly with her adap­ta­tion of Joan Did­ion’s novel of the same name, creat­ing a messy, dis­ori­en­tat­ing and me­an­der­ing film. It’s the last thing we wanted.

Partly the prob­lem is due to its fram­ing. The book em­ploys a name­less nar­ra­tor, a writer who has only a pe­riph­eral knowl­edge of the people and events around which the story re­volves. The movie uses chunks of Did­ion’s prose but keeps the de­tach­ment, some­how dou­bling the alien­ation by the time it gets onto film, mak­ing it a blood­less moral thriller.

Rees, who helmed “Mud­bound” to ac­claim, di­rects and co-writes the screen­play with Marco Vil­lalo­bos and they clearly ad­mire the novel. That leads to point­less scenes, too many mi­nor char­ac­ters and a lack of pre­ci­sion. For a thriller, there’s also an alarm­ing lack of thrills. So of­ten this films feels like a bal­loon re­peat­edly blown up and then just as soon de­flated.

View­ers might need to do some home­work be­fore­hand and get fa­mil­iar with Nicaragua in the 1980s. Know­ing who the San­din­istas and Con­tras are is cru­cial. Be­ing pa­tient with lots of cryp­tic geopo­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions is also a plus.

This isn’t based on a true story, but then we oddly get a por­trayal of for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Ge­orge P. Shultz. (Look away, Shultz fans. It isn’t pretty.)

The movie stars Anne Hath­away as the mid­dle-aged woman at the heart of the book. Like many of Did­ion’s hero­ines, Hath­away’s Elena McMahon has walked out of her life.

Ac­tu­ally she does it twice. We meet her as a hard-nosed jour­nal­ist who has al­ready fled a cos­set­ted ex­is­tence and wealthy hus­band. Then we see her flee that high-fly­ing ca­reer in order to aid her ail­ing dad.

Dad (Willem Dafoe, ter­rific) is a cur­mud­geonly arms dealer who has manged to ar­range one last ex­change which will net him $1 mil­lion, a lot in the mid-80s. But his mem­ory is fail­ing and he gets con­fused so he asks his daugh­ter to fill in for him. So that’s how we get Elena in a cock­tail dress stand­ing on a re­mote airstrip in Nicaragua with cases of guns, bul­lets and land mines.

Some­how the irony of this sit­u­a­tion isn’t fully ex­plored.

Here we have a right­eous jour­nal­ist who just a few min­utes be­fore was declar­ing “We can’t just look away!” about Cen­tral Amer­i­can atroc­i­ties who’s now smug­gling in the ex­act weapons fu­el­ing the vi­o­lence. But Elena is mov­ing too quickly to think about it — she’s fallen deep into a twisty con­spir­acy wrapped in an enigma hid­den in a lousy script.

Some­where in the film is a les­son about cor­rup­tion of the soul or the ve­nal­ity of na­tions.

But “The Last Thing He Wanted “is both too small and too large, un­able to tell the whole story of the U.S. med­dling in Cen­tral Amer­ica and yet un­able to re­ally tell the story of one woman, ei­ther.

There are mo­ments when Hath­away re­ally re­veals a hurt deep in­side — a scene in which she opens her dad’s empty fridge is deeply af­fect­ing — but the in­di­vid­ual scenes don’t add up to a real por­trait.

The film also stars Ben Af­fleck as a shad­owy fig­ure and he has de­cided that be­ing quiet and blank is the best op­tion here, ex­cept for a scene in which he eats pie with Shultz, which is just bizarre. There is crim­i­nally too lit­tle Rosie Perez as well.

The first half doesn’t fit with the sec­ond half, there are too many dis­trac­tions and the film­mak­ers think it’s clever to leave clues but they do it clum­sily and at the last minute and it’s re­ally ex­haust­ing for the viewer.

There’s a whiff of “The Year of Liv­ing Dangerousl­y,” a lit­tle “Air Amer­ica” and some Gra­ham Greene. But it’s a banana peel ev­ery­one has slipped on.

“The Last Thing He Wanted,” a Net­flix re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage, some vi­o­lence, dis­turb­ing im­ages and brief nu­dity. Run­ning time: 115 min­utes. One star out of four.

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