Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sundance with Abe: The Last Thing He Wanted

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

The Last Thing He Wanted
Directed by Dee Rees

Journalism is a profession frequently featured in thriller films because secret information that people don’t want exposed to the general public can often be uncovered by reporters investigating claims and sources. The degree to which the person breaking a story is threatened or put into danger by their research and reporting varies, and people sometimes get hurt in the process. Crafting a compelling narrative about a conspiracy or some other major cover-up requires a reliance on logic and strong plotting, something that not all films of the sort have.

Following a rushed extraction from a war zone in Central America, Elena (Anne Hathaway) returns to the United States and is taken off her desk, assigned to cover President Ronald Reagan’s reelection campaign, which her editor thinks will get her into less trouble. She remains convinced that there are unexplained elements of the Contra’s ability to arm itself and keeps digging. When her absent father (Willem Dafoe) calls and asks for a favor, she finds herself transported back to a place that she recognizes, unearthing surprising and frightening connections along the way to her work.

This film is based on a 1996 novel of the same name by Joan Didion that was well-received. This reviewer hasn’t read the book, but the basic story here seems to lack coherence. Elena is hardly subtle, walking into a press conference with a high-ranking government official midway through his speech and then asking a bold question he was never going to answer. Yet somehow she’s able to remain covert, especially when she begins to piece things together after reencountering her father. It’s an exercise in senselessness, and the route to the overdramatic and unconvincing finish is paved with plot holes.

Hathaway has taken on some worthwhile roles in recent years, like her Oscar-nominated turn in “Rachel Getting Married” and her winning part in “Les Miserables.” This film, unfortunately, falls closer to last year’s “Serenity,” a truly mind-boggling instance of script approval, and Hathaway’s performance is unspectacular at best. Dafoe, who has been turning in great performances the past few years, also isn’t at the top of his game, and Ben Affleck is astoundingly wooden as a government official closely following Elena’s movements. This film is neither thrilling nor intelligent, and will likely fare better as a mindless Netflix home stream later in February than as a highly questionable Sundance Film Festival selection.


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