The Last Thing He Wanted review: a starry political thriller

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Anne Hathaway and Willem Dafoe headline a new political thriller that’s on Netflix now – and here’s our review.

After premiering at Sundance Film Festival last month, Dee Rees’ latest film arrives relatively quietly on the Netflix service. Based on Joan Didion’s novel of the same name, The Last Thing He Wanted is a political thriller film with more strands of story than there are characters. Filled with stars, the premise centres around veteran journalist Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) who quits her job covering the 1984 United States presidential election to care for her dying father (Willem Dafoe). Later deciding to inherit her father’s position as an arms dealer in Central America, Elena slowly becomes the subject of the story she’s trying to break.

The tale may initially seem simple, yet it all proves anything but. Characters such as Ben Affleck’s Treat Morrison and Rosie Perez’s Alma Guerrero are established early on but their relationship to the story and to Elena’s world is cloudy. Most of the runtime is spent trying to understand the elongated narrative and even by the end credits, it’s still a muddle. There’s a style reminiscent of Narcos within the film’s first scene but there is nothing close to replication of Netflix’s popular property. Hathaway’s voiceover is not informing but offbeat, and the autumnal red/orange palette doesn’t disguise the problems with the writing.

That said, there are moments that offer evidence of a good movie in this. Dafoe and Hathaway provide great chemistry in an ensemble that acts on the whole as if everybody’s never met. Furthermore, Hathaway does enough in the role to garner interest at certain points of the film, but her performance is unable to carry the movie for long. Nobody else really cuts through, and it’s a case of a very starry ensemble with very little impact.

The father and daughter relationship just about works and does provide some emotional resonance in the film, but these moments are few and far between. The film, meanwhile, opts to keep diving further into what feels like a never-ending mystery. Perhaps if the focus altered to a simpler story around these characters rather than the journalistic story that Elena is trying to crack, there may have been a spark to all of this. The concept of a daughter trying to reconnect to her father by altering her career path and endangering her life offers potentially a great character study, just not here.

The biggest mystery is how all of this misses so much. Dee Rees is still a very capable director and her work on Mudbound proves that there will be greater successes in her future. It’s just her latest feature falls short on adapting an already complicated novel by injecting yet more complications. Rather than innovating within the political thriller genre, The Last Thing He Wanted ticks pretty every minimal box it can, at the expense of clarity or sense.


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