The Last Thing He Wanted movie review: Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck bottom out in new Netflix film
The Last Thing He Wanted
Director - Dee Rees
Cast - Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, Willem Dafoe
Buried five paragraphs into its final quarterly report of 2019, Netflix casually mentioned a change in its viewership metrics. While the streamer previously counted ‘one view’ only after an account had watched 70% of a film or an episode of a TV show, under the new metrics, a member needs to only watch a couple of minutes of a particular piece of ‘content’ for Netflix to consider their curiosity as commitment.
This change is perhaps why the hotly marketed fantasy series The Witcher registered one of the largest numbers in Netflix’s history, and it is possibly going to be the sole reason why the streamer’s new original film, the tellingly low-key political thriller The Last Thing He Wanted, will not be classified as an all-out disaster.
Watch the trailer for The Last Thing He Wanted here:
It’s perfectly understandable for a viewer to see stars Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck’s faces plastered prominently on their homepages, and feel compelled to click on the thumbnail. But before they realise what they’re watching isn’t worth their time, it’ll be too late. The Last Thing He Wanted would’ve gained another view, the studio system would’ve suffered another setback, and streaming will get to boast about another success story.
Two minutes, Netflix says, is “long enough to indicate the choice was intentional,” and not, as one would assume, a mistake. I’d be curious to see what the retention rate for The Last Thing He Wanted is, because it is easily one of the most unwatchable films Netflix has ever released.
Giving the impression that it was physically stitched together by Edward Scissorhands, the film feels at once overwhelmingly complicated and ridiculously empty on plot. What’s more infuriating is that it’s directed by Oscar-nominee Dee Rees, and stars the Academy Award winners Hathaway and Affleck, who deserve at least a pat on the back (if not another Oscar) for sticking it out and not abandoning this rotten carcass of a film.
At least Affleck doesn’t appear properly till around an hour into the movie, by which time I suppose most viewers would’ve checked out, but it’s torturous to watch Hathaway overcompensate in virtually every scene. It brings back repressed memories of the time she hosted the Oscars with a clearly inebriated James Franco, and felt the need to make up for his disengaged demeanour by wearing a pained smile on her face for close to four hours. I would never have imaged that she’d appear in a worse film than Les Miserables, but there you have it.
Based on a novel by the great Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted involves corrupt politicians and crack reporters, all involved in a story that is meant to be a critique of American intrusiveness, but ends up making a case for stronger creative oversight in the relatively unsupervised world of streaming. It’s almost as if Rees turned in a six-hour cut, and then simply washed her hands off the mess, forcing Netflix to employ a dozen or so editors to trim it down to under two hours, thereby removing all context and cohesiveness from the story.
Hathaway plays a journalist named Elena, who, utterly unmotivated, takes over from her ailing father as an arms dealer for the US government in Central America. At least Clint Eastwood’s character had a reason to become a drug runner in The Mule; at least greed was a good enough reason for Tom Cruise’s character to peddle narcotics in American Made. Hathaway’s Elena didn’t even particularly like her father, who, as if to announce that he isn’t one to be trusted, in their first onscreen meeting forgets that his ex-wife died recently.
The Last Thing He Wanted is filled with logical leaps such as this. We never quite understand why Elena risks her life to carry out her dying father’s last wishes, abandoning her career and her daughter in the process. Characters and plot lines are introduced only to be forgotten later on, defying the very nature of cinematic storytelling. Narrative threads are unspooled and left dangling, and poor Ben Affleck is struck by yet another blow.
It’s a criminal waste of everyone’s time, and a cautionary tale for streamers with deep pockets looking to ride on the coattails of stars.