Netflix’ ‘fuzzy felt’ production line continues to throw content at the wall to see what sticks – and it’s not this. A poorly adapted, incoherent, journo-political thriller, despite Anne Hathaway acting her socks off, makes no sense whatsoever. Plenty of tension and skull-duggery during Reagan-era, Central American shenanigans, can’t reconcile Hathaway’s dedicated news hound to her run of catastrophic decisions.
Aside from the terrible title, there are many, many unanswered questions here.
Why does a passionate, free thinking, investigative journalist decide see through her arms dealing father’s big score? Especially when he’s ill and she has only contempt for his terrible behaviour since childhood?
How does she think she can follow through a story on insurgent arms deals when she has become the story?!?
Why does she suddenly decide to sleep with the reptilian Washington defence attaché ‘Treat’ Morrison (a buffed post-Batman Ben Affleck)?
Why take a block of cocaine from the drop site, then abandon it? Why guiltily keep telephoning the daughter that she’s deposited at boarding school for the sake of her career, then keep saying she has nothing to go back for?
Why does it open and close with a huge chunk of film-noir voice-over, but never explain anything the rest of the time?
Why is it released in 2020 as an ’80’s retro-throwback period piece but feel like a 1970’s second-string filler?
It’s a script so poor that Willem DaFoe, as her self-centred, bigot of a father dies suddenly off-screen half-way through. Toby Jones cameos in Act Three as a gay bath-house owner, but it’s never clear if the hole in his head is self inflicted after reading the rest of the script.
It’s not like I didn’t understand the plot, in fact I think I deserve a prize for following more of it than was actually left in the script, the direction or the edit.
It doesn’t know if it wants to be a serious Graham Green adaptation like Constant Gardener, a gritty drama like Salvador, a journo-crusade like All the President’s Men, or a modern-noir State of Play. All of those had journalists or investigators digging out corruption, but in this, the journalist deliberately jumps over the line with both feet early on and stays there. One has to assume there was more coherence in Joan Didion’s source novel than made it through the screenplay.
Meanwhile poor Hathaway de-glams and even throws in a gratuitous topless scene to show off the character’s mastectomy scar; while she’s sleeping with the totally untrustworthy government spook. Maybe the first draft she signed on for was better?
What we get is a ‘top’ investigative journalist, hard-drinking, hard swearing, but with a disastrously poor judgement of character; she looks like a rookie walking into a Central American killing zone with no backup and no escape plan. That’s just as a journalist. Seriously, who flies straight into an international arms deal with no previous experience?
Writer-director Dee Rees (Mudbound, Pariah) and co-writer Marco Villalobos have to carry most of the blame. For reference, see Matt Damon’s The Shepherd or Seymour-Hoffman’s A Most Wanted Man if you want a tight period thriller with no big shoot-outs. RC
The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Dee Rees
Writers: Marco Villalobos, Dee Rees
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Running time: 148 minutes
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Toby Jones, Rosie Perez, Edi Gathegi, Willem Dafoe, Mel Rodriguez