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Review: Last Night (2011)

Last Night (2011)

Directed by: Massy Tadjedin

Premise: A married couple (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington) spends a night apart and each one encounters old flames that lead them into temptation.

What Works: Last Night is a film of small scale but that focus is appropriate to the story it is telling. Character studies often focus on a single person and emphasize nuance over plot beats; Last Night is similar to a character study, but in this case it focuses on two people and their potential affairs. When each member of the couple goes in different geographic directions Last Night effectively splits into two narratives and it balances between them very well. Last Night is a very economically told story and it is edited very effectively, using cues from one narrative to transition to the other and it finds ways of cutting right to the essence of the scene without sacrificing the dramatic buildup. The construction of the story allows a lot of parallel action between the couple as they experience the push and pull of temptation. The cinematography also aids the film success and Last Night has an odd but effective combination of warm and cold visuals. The passion and attraction between the four people is palatable but the film is often shot with a very icy and sterile quality. That contrast works because it highlights the subtext of the scene without overemphasizing it. However, the construction of the movie and its cinematic techniques would not work if it weren’t for the excellent performances. Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington play the couple and they are believable as a pair that has hit a plateau; the film opens on a fight that convincingly exudes the resentment of familiarity that breeds between people who have been together for a long time. The way the conflict manifests, climaxes, and then resolves within the first ten minutes of the film is very  impressive as it establishes the characters and their relationship and sets the tone for the story. But for the majority of the film Knightley and Worthington’s characters spend their time with other people and it is those relationships that really make the film work. Knightley’s character reunites from an old flame from Paris (Guillaume Canet) and the actress conveys a sense of excitement but also embarrassment which she manifests with some smart, subtle choices in her performance. Worthington’s character has a burgeoning romance with a coworker (Eva Mendes) and the actor is able to convey a lot with a look or a shift in posture, his desire equal with his uncertainty. Aside from the two leads, Last Night also has an effective supporting performance by Griffin Dunne as an older man who encounters Knightley and her friend. Dunne is cast as a one man Greek chorus who comments upon the events and his input raises the intelligence of the picture. Last Night’s performances, filmmaking style, and smart writing combine to create a film that has something provocative to say about love, sex, and relationships and what it has to say is heartfelt and authentic without getting syrupy or cynical.

What Doesn’t: The one element of Last Night that may prove a stumbling block for viewers is the insular quality of the world these characters inhabit. Like many of Woody Allen’s films, Last Night is about privileged, upper class characters who are unhappy. This film does this well because it is about characters that have a lot of depth and reality to them but those who find Allen’s films off-putting may find Last Night difficult to penetrate.

DVD extras: Trailer and image gallery.
Bottom Line: Last Night is a very good film. It’s dramatic but not in the overly sentimental style of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation and the film’s sparseness gives it a reality that makes it quietly heartbreaking.

Episode: #386 (April 29, 2012)