Director: Dee Rees
Writers: Dee Rees and Marco Villalobos
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe
Veteran DC journalist Elena McMahon (Hathaway) unwittingly runs an errand for her ill father (Dafoe) regarding an illegal deal for trading of arms, and in the process becomes unwittingly involved in the very story she is trying to break, but the deeper that gets involved the more danger she puts herself in.
Surely a snappy and appropriate title is an important element for a film, and though it admittedly may well be the name of the book the film is based on (which I have not read, so cannot comment on), in my view The Last Thing He Wanted sounds like the title of a romantic comedy, and not what is supposed to be a thriller. However, the less than snappy title may well be the least of the problem’s for Netflix’s latest release, as despite being apparently a ‘thriller’ it is one of the least thrilling films available on Netflix at the moment. Thanks mainly to an absolutely abysmal script The Last Thing He Wanted is a completely laborious two hours, and I would implore even those slightly curious to avoid this film and find something else from Netflix’s extensive back catalogue. Or failing that, just and go watch some paint dry for a couple of hours – you are guaranteed to get more out of that than this absolute mess of a film.
Usually a film’s script goes through many drafts where a few ‘experts’ supposedly iron out some of the problems, but it seems that either all involved with this film just went with the very first draft that was supposed to be a (very) rough draft or they thought the script was beyond saving and the producers (who tend to have an insultingly low opinion of film fans anyway) just thought they could get away with it.
The main issue in my view is that The Last Thing He Wanted is that it hasn’t got a clue what it wants to be, and so has no focus on its abundance of random subplots and quite episodic and jarring narrative, as well as ever giving any kind of justification as to why certain characters do certain things. We start with a voice over from our protagonist incoherently babbling on about arms dealing and Government corruption, but it doesn’t really make any sense. Though she just spends most of the film starring intensely into the distance while smoking, Anna Hathaway’s character has experienced a few things in her life, here is just a summary:
- She has a troubled relationship with her daughter who is forced to live in a boarding school (the reasons of which are never really explained),
- She appears to have no kind of contact with her ex-husband,
- She has a troubled relationship with her dad, who appears to have some kind of dementia,
- her mother appears to have died recently,
- she is a breast cancer survivor with the scars to prove it must have been a horrific ordeal for her,
- she is constantly arguing with her boss who seems to always stop her from focussing on the story she truly wants to follow,
- in the film’s opening scene, she only just survives a mass shooting,
- she smokes A LOT
Though these would appear to very lazy attempts at ‘character development’ to perhaps justify why our protagonist has a bit of a chip on her shoulder, they are dealt with so casually that they just end up being lazy clichés that often have very little justification and feel like an unnecessary distraction from the ‘plot’. It is fair to say that a few of these apparent character tropes could have been removed if they could not have been included into the narrative in a far more effective way (as none of them actually are).
Ah yes, the plot……
Well, that is just all over the place; What happens within the plot is usually because of the protagonist’s choices, and cause and effect character driven narratives are of course fine if written well. Though the well-trodden cliché of the ambitious journalist who will risk everything for their story is fine if written well, in The Last Thing He Wanted it seems that the writers think that is enough, and really fail to justify some of the rather extreme and dangerous decisions she makes. I can only assume that this film is supposed to have some kind of tension because of this, but it is just impossible to care as all I was thinking throughout the film was “for god’s sake Anne, put your cigarette down, give up and go home!”
The story itself also ties itself up in knots; there is no doubt that a plot that involves ambitious journalists, corrupt government officials and shady arms dealers is going to get complicated, especially as the protagonist’s dad is also somehow involved in all of this, and so unwittingly forcing his daughter to go from writing the story to being the story – which is indeed presumably The Last Thing He Wanted (still a rubbish title though!).
Random (and often clichéd) characters come and go from the plot, and then sometimes come back again, usually with very little explanation and justification, and certainly very much at the narrative’s convenience. While the dialogue that is spoken by some is genuinely painful to watch, often with a complete exposition overload. There is never any kind of tension or intrigue to be found as the narrative over complicates things and ties itself up in knots (that it is never able to undo), and ultimately I found myself just getting bored of the protagonists increasingly unjustified and increasingly stupid decisions.
The performances too are not great; Anne Hathaway of course was in my official worst film of 2019 (Serenity) and is already in a contender for my worst film of 2020, and though I am sure she will not be too fussed about that, she certainly convinces as someone that enjoys smoking, but lacks any kind of geuine screen presence, but with that script the performance of a lifetime would still make no difference. Meanwhile Willem Dafoe gives an intriguing performance in his minimal screen time, while Ben Affleck just cannot be bothered at all. The great Toby Jones turns up at one point in the film’s final third, and as much as I am always willing to watch anything with him in it, even his obvious scenery chewing cannot salvage anything from the abysmal script. The Last Thing He Wanted is quite simply an appalling film and I am struggling to find a good thing to say about it.
With a script that is even more abysmal than the film’s title and a completely unengaging and boring plot that lacks any kind of cohesion, The Last Thing He Wanted should very much be the last thing anyone should want to watch on Netflix!