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Hannah Woodhead

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The Last Thing He Wanted – first look review

Dee Rees and Anne Hathaway tackle Joan Didion’s novel of the same name, with disastrous results.

It’s always a shame when a film you’ve been excited about watching turns out to be a disappointment. From the second it was announced, Dee Rees’ adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ sounded like it could be major, with Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez and Willem Dafoe all signed on and Rees herself fresh off directing the excellent Mudbound. Sadly, this half-baked political thriller is far less than the sum of its parts.

As in Didion’s novel, the film concerns Elena McMahon (Hathaway), a hotshot reporter who quits her job following the ’84 Reagan/Bush campaign trail when her father Richard (Dafoe) falls ill. While attempting to take care of some unfinished business for him, she inadvertently becomes embroiled in the very story she had once tried to crack, involving US government-backed arms dealing in Central America.

Elena’s presence brings her to the attention of Treat Morrison (Affleck), a high-ranking government official who soon begins investigating McMahon’s reasons for being in Costa Rica, while her colleague Alma (Perez) back in Washington awaits news of the situation.

It did feel a little strange that The Last Thing He Wanted was selected for a Sundance premiere rather than debuting in a ritzy awards season spot, but having now seen the end product, it’s easy to see why – the convoluted plot, strained dialogue and phoned-in performances would have never passed muster on the Oscars trail.

Adapting Didion is no easy task, but Rees and Marco Villalobos’ screenplay strips her prose of all poetry, turning her story into something cold and functional. It’s as difficult to be invested in McMahon’s relationship with her father as it is her sudden, baffling romance with Morrison, let alone follow the complex plot, which jumps around North and Central America, muttering about arms dealers and contras without actually saying why any of this is important.

Add to this shoddy sound mixing, an invasive score and one extremely bad VFX shot towards the end, and The Last Thing He Wanted stacks up as the biggest disappointment of Sundance 2020.

Published 29 Jan 2020

Tags: Anne Hathaway Ben Affleck Dee Rees Sundance Film Festival Willem Dafoe

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