"The Last Thing He Wanted" is a movie no one wanted
“The Last Thing He Wanted,” the new Netflix film starring Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck, is about a Reagan-era reporter investigating the sale of U.S. weapons to the right-wing Contra rebels of Nicaragua, only to get mixed up in the story when she takes over as the arms dealer in place of her ailing father. If that sounds a bit convoluted, that’s because it is.
The film is directed by Dee Rees, the first Black woman to be nominated for a “Best Adapted Screenplay” Oscar for her 2017 Netflix film “Mudbound.” Unfortunately, the magic was not repeated here.
Rees co-wrote the screenplay with Marco Villalobos, an occasional producer and cinematographer with no other writing credits to his name. They adapted the screenplay from the novel by Joan Didion, lauded cultural essayist of “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” who won the National Book Award for her Nonfiction work “The Year of Magical Thinking.”
With so much collective talent, it’s a shame this film is so bad. Even great performances by Anne Hathaway, Willem Dafoe, and Toby Jones can’t anchor this film from its confused, meandering narrative.
Hathaway plays Elena McMahon, a courageous and dedicated reporter out to break the story on the civil war in Nicaragua, only to be reassigned to the relatively menial task of covering the 1984 Presidential election. Soon she’s pulled away to Miami to care for her father who’s suffered a serious health scare – and who just happens to the be the guy in charge of selling all the weapons to the Reagan-backed Contra’s.
He’s too sick to make the deal himself, so he sends her in his place so that he doesn’t lose out on the money. He’s in debt to some loan sharks, apparently. It’s not very well motivated. From here the plot languidly meanders from one location to the next, with Hathaway’s character mostly just waiting in various places.
Despite the occasional flash of guns, the only real energy here comes in the few precious scenes between Father and Daughter. Dafoe is always captivating to watch, and this film is no exception. He plays a gunrunner suffering from the early stages of dementia, among other things, and the complicated but loving relationship between he and his daughter makes for the most compelling moments in the film.
The Daughter, played by Hathaway, has her own complicated relationship with her child, which adds to the complexity of the character dynamics but isn’t enough to overcome the poorly executed plot.
Ben Affleck delivers an uninspired performance as Treat Morrison, a character whose role in this world is incredibly vague as some sort of government agent. The audience is presumably supposed to trust him, but he’s unlikeable and untrustworthy right from the start which makes his betrayal toward the end of the film fall completely flat.
It’s still unclear what the title of the film is in reference to. “The Last Thing He Wanted” is presumably the lie Ben Affleck’s character gives about his misdeeds. But by the end of the film, the only thing I wanted was a better movie.