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Not every book it meant to find its way to the big screen. Look at last year’s The Goldfinch. The novel was a national bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner – as celebrated as a novel could be. Yet when John Crowley adapted it to the big screen... crickets. The same can now be said about Dee Ree's The Last Thing He Wanted, however this is way, way, way worse. The new Netflix film based on the 1996 novel by Joan Didion is the equivalent of witnessing a book report tiredly written at 3 a.m. from sketchy Cliff Notes.
There are signs that the film is based on emotional source material. Epic music swells throughout its two-hour runtime. Immensely talented, Oscar-winning actors play all the principal characters. But somehow it feels as if a zombie got ahold of The Last Thing He Wanted. Every moment of its storytelling is full of dread and empty of feeling. There’s many missing pieces in the narrative. You have no idea what’s going on more than half of the time. You won’t just not care about the characters to begin with – you’ll come out the other side caring even less. It tries to keep you guessing to pose as a thriller, but you just are left feeling like you have no idea what’s going on at all.
The Oscar-nominated Dee Rees of 2017’s Mudbound is at the helm here. What happened? It’s about a journalist living in the Reagan Era chasing after United States’ funding of anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua. It almost seems like it would need to take more effort for the movie to fall as completely flat on its face as it does.
It’s like the 2011 Oscars all over again, as poor Anne Hathaway is giving her all and no one else is.
Anne Hathaway is really trying to bring some soul into Elena McMahon and she certainly might have in another version of The Last Thing He Wanted. Her character is a breast cancer survivor, single mother, and stick-to-her-guns D.C. journalist. The movie is so committed to mirroring how tedious the assignment she is on is, though, that the movie’s tone takes a major blow.
Ultimately it’s not unlike Anne Hathaway's stint as co-host at the 2011 Oscars, when she was playing things over-the-top and with high energy, and James Franco was playing the straight man to a fault. That’s The Last Thing He Wanted. She’s pulling out all the bells and whistles to bring out her acting ability and just do her job, but she’s forced to act to a wall. There’s just something about this movie that hangs over it like a giant cloud as Elena attempts to help her father make one last shady deal as he starts to fall ill.
Some incredible A-list actors give the most lifeless performances of their careers in The Last Thing He Wanted.
The great Willem Dafoe plays said father. His character has dementia and regularly shoots off homophobic slurs. He comes back into her life at a too-convenient time when her job at the fictional Atlantic Post has her covering Reagan’s re-election campaign instead of looking deeper into Contras, and his job takes her directly to the source. What are the odds? It’s too close for comfort here.
Then there’s Ben Affleck. He has something like five lines in The Last Thing He Wanted, and never has the actor resembled a brick more. The movie attempts to push him and Anne Hathaway as a romantic pairing, and it’s so completely out of nowhere. The audience isn’t even given the satisfaction of some sort of chemistry from the two of them. And when there’s a twist in the relationship between the two, there’s not enough built upon between them for it have any type of effect on anything.
Rosie Perez and Toby Jones are part of this cast too. Before you imagine their supporting roles giving the same personality Perez recently brought to Birds of Prey or Jones did in Captain America: The First Avenger, forget it. Imagine the dull brown color of a cardboard box, and that is The Last Thing He Wanted. That’s the best way to describe the emotion range of the movie: cardboard boxes and brick walls.
It’s such a torturous assignment of a movie – you’d be better off cracking open a history book.
If anything, at least The Last Thing He Wanted could be an educational film, but it doesn’t actually do anything to explain the dire issue the heroine is giving her life to expose. She asks a question about Contras once during a press conference and that’s somehow supposed to get audiences on the same page. And there’s no more answers or pay off as the movie progresses.
It’s frustrating how little the film seems to care about who is watching. It’s lazy footnotes of the novel that completely misses the mark. The Last Thing He Wanted is a waste of time, and it’s among the last thing you’ll want to watch on Netflix.