Jun 4, 2011

Last Night [12A]

Dir: Massey Tadjedin
There is nothing especially original, nor especially wrong, about the central idea of Last Night. It's the story of a young couple (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington), who have been married for three years. At a party, Joanna thinks her husband Michael seems attracted to a co-worker (Eva Mendes as Laura). They argue. The next day, Michael goes on an out of town business trip with Laura, and Joanna bumps into old flame Alex (Guillaume Canet). Mind-numbingly predictable relationship dramas play out.

The situation is interesting enough, and there is a lot of potential for drama in Last Night, as both sides of a couple contemplate cheating, the night after an argument about what constitutes cheating (ooh, irony), but the potential is undone at every turn by hideously botched execution.

Writer and first time director Tadjedin has to take much of the blame here. First of all, her script is utterly banal; the characters are thin, their problems prosaic and, most damagingly, their marriage utterly unconvincing. Even the argument that opens the film doesn't establish much about Joanna and Michael's relationship, rendered as it is in the same hushed tones as the rest of the film. This film is devoid of passion – be it in marriage or even in the heat of infidelity – instead it feels like we are watching these empty vessels float though, respectively, New York and Philadelphia. The tedious, wet, dialogue made me long for the brutal, sweary, snap of David Mamet or the wit of (classic) Woody Allen, unfortunately Tadjedin gives us little insight or humour, and the 12A rating means that she can't really push the dialogue.

That's not to say that the script is Tadjedin's only problem. Her directorial style is a mix of the sort of stagy, static scenes that say 'oh shit, I'm directing and I've got no clue what I'm doing' and flourishes like the endless jump cutting and dialogue from the next scene coming in over the current one, with which Tadjedin seems to shout 'Look, I saw Breathless'. It's an infuriating watch, vacillating between being somnolently static and annoyingly jumpy.

However, the final, hobbling, blow is struck by the casting, or rather the miscasting. I will make no apologies for being a fan of Keira Knightley, even though she's not one of the world's five great actresses she consistently makes interesting choices and, rather than doing the endless blockbuster roles she could be taking, stretches herself as an actress, and her performances generally get better with each movie she makes. Sadly she comes unstuck here, but it's not really her fault. Knightley is too delicate seeming for this role, and also too youthful (yes, Michael and Joanna are a young couple, but there is no sense in Knightley's performance of the worldliness that Joanna needs). It's largely the fault of a character as shallow as a puddle in the Sahara, but Knightley just never convinces in the role, either in her nostalgic longing for Alex or her need for stability with Michael. Unfortunately, Knightley is probably the best thing in the movie.

Sam Worthington is best known as a teaky and uncertainly accented presence in action blockbusters, and if that's what you like then tuck in, because here he's a teaky and uncertainly accented (which is perverse, because he's speaking in his real Aussie accent and still it sounds like a bad put on) presence in an unutterably boring drama. His story with Mendes is so dull and schematic that it feels like time stops when they are on screen, and he brings so little emotion to the table that nothing has any weight. Mendes, for her part, is so poorly drawn that she's barely worth mentioning; less a character than a walking Pandora's Box of temptation. Equally schematic is Canet; smug, annoying and woefully one note as Joanna's very forward old flame. Ultimately these characters deserve each other, they're all dull and none of them is remotely likeable, so what's to get interested in? Who cares if Michael and Joanna break up, it's not like we have any more investment in their marriage than they appear to have. Who cares about any of it? There is never any sense of watching people live their lives here, with every scene the film is more contrived, more like a (poor) drama, and for us to care about what happens to these people, that has to go away.

Overall, Last Night is a boring, schematically written, near characterless, piece of ephemera. It's not offensively bad, just unspeakably dull.

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