The Last Thing He Wanted is set in the early 1980s and is about a reporter, Elena McMahon, who is covering revolutions and unrest in Central America when she's pulled off the desk to cover the presidential election of 1984. She reconnects with her father who embroils her into his business as an arms dealer. This is the best I can do for a summary. More on that after credits. It stars Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, Willem Dafoe, Edi Gathegi, Mel Rodriguez, Onata Aprile, Julian Gamble, and Toby Jones. It is written by Marco Villalobos and Dee Rees and directed by Dee Rees. It is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Alchemy is sometimes hard to capture when it comes to a film even when it has all the right pieces. The Last Thing He Wanted has a lot going for it, A-list and great character actors alike, a fabulous director, source material by a prolific and talented author, but something went wrong. The finished product is a confusing, dense tale about government overreach and the final Cold War battlefields. I paid as close attention as anyone, but I couldn't tell you up from down or left from right.
The amount of double speak, double and triple crosses, confounding plot details is staggering. There are characters who I have no idea their motivation or literally anything about them except they're trained by some government or other to do... something. It's so muddled that even in the final wrap up as a character falls to their death and all the mysteries are revealed I still questioned how, why, when and where the French government got involved in all of it. There was a French agent running around? I guess, why not?
There were so many threads left and right that I would completely forget about a thread until it reached its resolution. I honestly blame the prevalence of episodic mini-series for some of the bloated, convoluted movies we've been getting lately. People have been spoiled by great long form story telling and there's a pressure to get that into film adaptations as well. What this story needed was a trimming of plot and a coherent structure to it. Some films and now The Last Thing He Wanted included tend to put all that's on the page up onto the screen to the detriment of the story.
I've never read The Last Thing He Wanted, though I have to say its film has an utterly ludicrous premise. I'm not sure what human, no matter how dogged a reporter would be as absolutely obtuse as Elena McMahon. Meeting after meeting, city to city, she just does something that boggles the mind. She's barely got a connection she's following and she basically lost her job in the first act, so what is it all for, anyway? It's like she's a character designed for you to shout, "stop trusting the white man in the suit!" at the screen. How can she be so good at asking the right questions in Washington, but so bad at recognizing the signs in the field?
Though with all the mess that comes together as a whole of this film, I hope that Dee Rees gets another chance. So many men get to make a film as questionable as this and they've been given the keys to the castle. Rees deserves the same chance as they do, to have the occasional blip on their resume and to move forward. Too many women have been locked out after one badly reviewed film. Because of her talent, yes even in this film, her talent and eye are evident in the shots she takes, and because of her unique view on the world, let this blemish be popped and the world move onto her next and better.
I wish I had good things to say about this film, but it's too much for me to handle. It's confusing and in many ways ridiculous, but if you have nothing else to watch, it's shot rather beautifully. I also fault Anne Hathaway for none of her choices in this role. I don't recommend you spend your time, quarantine or not, with The Last Thing He Wanted.