Sundance 2020 – The Last Thing He Wanted

For every one truly great film that Netflix has produced – The Irishman, Apostle, Roma, Wheelman – there are 100 of them that are utterly forgettable and only exist as content to take up space. The Last Thing He Wanted, the latest from writer/director Dee Rees, is one of those wastes of space films. 

Based on the novel by Joan Didion, the film follows Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway), a DC journalist in the 80s investigating the US selling arms to the Contras in Latin America when her desk gets frozen. Frustrated, she helps her estranged father (Willem Dafoe) complete an arms sale in Latin America? Then everybody is after her because she knows too much? I think? Ben Affleck is also in this? Honestly, this film is damn near impossible to follow through its incoherent plodding. I couldn’t really tell you at any point in this film what was happening and/or why it was happening. It’s as if a vaguely remembered plot synopsis from Didion’s novel was adapted instead of the actual novel. 

The sound editing on this film is astoundingly bad. It requires subtitles because you go entire scenes not being able to even hear what the actors are saying. It’s like they’re murmuring each of their lines into a microphone that’s across the room. It makes the film that much harder to follow when you can’t make out what anybody is saying. I’ve seen many films at the theater it screened at, trust me, it was not the theater’s fault. 

I quite admired Mudbound, the last film from Rees that I also watched at Sundance, and always thought Netflix was the wrong distributor for it because it had no charm unless you saw it on the big screen like I did. This is a ridiculously good cast, but you would never know they are good if you only ever watched this film. Rees has made good films before, and will make good films again, but good lord this was an awful bump in the road. You never get any sense as to why Rees wanted to make this. If it was just to get paid to hang out in Costa Rica and Antigua, then I can’t fault her. But she is simply much better than this.

What’s most disappointing perhaps is just how boring this film is. I wanted to take a nap for most of it, I even saw people around me struggling to stay awake. At one point in the film they have to blow up a dog just to keep you awake. You just spend its 2 hour runtime wondering in confusion as to who these people are and why they are doing what they’re doing. There are so many “twists” in this shit that never register the desired impact because they are just so miserably constructed and barely thought out. You just stop caring, and sit waiting for it to finish. It’s a canonical addition to the “Pee-Yew, This Film Stinks” library.

The Last Thing He Wanted reinforces the overall Netflix “brand” of titles that you will forget quickly after watching them and have no impact on the world of film. It is forgettable, boring nothingness, but that won’t matter. People will watch it. A lot of people will watch it because it’s going to be on Netflix, and that’s the only way many will actually watch something anymore.

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