SYNOPSIS: A veteran D.C. journalist (Academy Award® winner Anne Hathaway) loses the thread of her own narrative when a guilt-propelled errand for her father (Oscar® nominee Willem Dafoe) thrusts her from byline to unwitting subject in the very story she’s trying to break. Academy Award® nominee Dee Rees directs her adaptation of Joan Didion's namesake novel, co-starring Oscar® winner Ben Affleck.
Headlined by Anne Hathaway, The Last Thing He Wanted is a complex political thriller skilfully designed to confuse and bore everyone. Nevermind the fact that the movie revolved around the US intervention in Central America during the Cold War era. So unless you are a history buff or keen observer of American politics, you probably won’t care much about the civil war in El Salvador and Nicaragua either.
The story starts with Elena McMahon (Hathaway), a reporter covering the Salvadoran Civil War who is keen to expose the United States government’s so-called military aid to the El Salvador government. But before she could do anything further, Elena is assigned by her editor to cover the Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign instead. Frustrated by this arrangement and at the same time, her long estranged sick dad, Dick (Willem Dafoe) needs her help in closing one of his last shady deals. So Elena strangely (and obediently) flies to Costa Rica with a planeload of weapons and ammunition in order to close his dad’s deal. But things went south and Elena ended up receiving a case of drugs rather than the promised million dollar traveller cheque.
Before we continue, let’s pause for a while to take a deep breath. Isn’t The Last Thing He Wanted about war journalism? A promising adventure of the overachiever, righteous journalist Elena McMahon? Why is it turning into weapon smuggling territory and subsequently a love affair between Elena and a shady government agent, Treat (you guessed it, he is played by Ben Affleck).
We do not know much about the source material which was written by Joan Didion and adapted to the screen by director Dee Rees. On the whole, it’s a disaster for audience to buy into the whole concept and Elena’s world. Pretty much every character except Elena come and go as they pleased. Treat is practically non-existent. Dick apparently left Elena and her mom when she was young and Dick sadly abandoned the audience midway as well. Edi Gathegi’s French agent, Jones is woefully denied a chance to shine onscreen. Toby Jones plays a very convincing gay motel operator and Rosie Perez has a few screen moments as Elena’s lesbian colleague. And we have yet mentioned the other countless vague characters or missing backstories.
It’s so nice of Dee Rees to keep the audience guessing what is Elena’s next move and who in this chaotic world is trustworthy. Who actually wanted her dead anyway? Of all places, Elena is once again dropped into the place where civil wars are happening. How convenient. Despite Hathaway’s best attempts to portray a tortured character with lots of incomprehensible monologue, The Last Thing He Wanted marks her second onscreen disaster after Serenity. There’s so much potential right here but the number of talents involved seem to be forgetting about coming up with a more coherent story.
Review by Linus Tee