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“The Last Thing He Wanted” Inexplicably Goes Far Off The Rails

There has to be an explanation for what went wrong here. How does a project, co-written and directed by Dee Rees, her follow up to the Academy Award nominated Mudbound, fall so far off the rails? Rees not only once again had the supporting of Netflix, but was adapting the Joan Didian novel The Last Thing He Wanted. Somehow, despite the considerable talents of Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, and Anne Hathaway, the movie of the same name is an utter disaster. One of 2020’s worst so far, it seems destined to end the year in a position of dishonor. It boggles the mind how wrong this all went.

The film is drama mixing conspiracy thriller, crime, and mystery elements. Taking place in the mid 1980s, we follow journalist Elena McMahon (Hathaway) as she investigates what will eventually become the Iran Contra controversy. Along with a fellow veteran D.C. journalist (Rosie Perez), Elena is close to a breakthrough when her newspaper pulls her off the story and places her on Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election. Furious, her life is all the more complicated when her father Richard (Dafoe) is bed-ridden and needs her help. They never had a good relationship, but making a last wish, she takes over a shady job of his. Never fully knowing what he was up to but suspecting it wasn’t particularly legal, Elena is shocked find herself back in the story she was covering. As she looks to tell the story and reveal the truth, she winds up within a world of covert ops and political danger, keeping her on the radar of government agent Treat Morrison (Affleck). The more she finds out, the more danger she gets herself into. Rees writes with Marco Villalobos and directs here, while Tamar-kali composed the score. Supporting players include Onata Aprile, Julian Gamble, Toby Jones, and more. Bobby Bukowski handles the cinematography.

This movie desperately wants to be a conspiracy thriller, circa the 1970s. It fails in almost every regard. Dee Rees’ script, co-written by Marco Villalobos, is an absolute incomprehensible mess. That makes Rees’ job as director almost impossible, which leads to any number of bizarre sequences. Rees and editor Mako Kamitsuna never once make sense of the mess. Worse, she leaves Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, and Anne Hathaway out on an island, preventing them from having anything interesting to do. Their performances are one note and disappointing, to say the least. Sure, a few shots in the flick look good, but that doesn’t excuse the poor pacing, nonsensical plot, and incredibly frustrating ending. That doesn’t even include an egregious dog death, which is meant to be shocking, but instead just further pisses off an already annoyed audience.

The Last Thing He Wanted was initially meant to be a 2019 awards season release, though when delayed into 2020, the Oscar prospects were thought to have gone out the window. Turns out, that was an understatement. Playing at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, it was meant with the type of scathing reviews that sink any flick. For this one, it has gone from an Academy Award hopeful to a dump by Netflix. The streaming giant is smart to be in business with filmmakers like Rees, but that doesn’t mean they’re all going to be winners. This is surely example of that.

Now streaming on Netflix, The Last Thing He Wanted is a terrible movie. The streaming service will get it way more views than it otherwise would have (or that it deserves), but no matter how you slice it, this is a huge misfire. Destined to be forgotten, one hopes this is just a small bump in the road for Affleck, Dafoe, Hathaway, Rees, and company. For fans of them, this is most definitely the last thing any of them would have wanted…

The Last Thing He Wanted is available now to stream on Netflix.

(Photos courtesy of Netflix)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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