Directed by: Dee Rees
Premise: Based on the book by Joan Didion. Set in the early 1980s, a journalist (Anne Hathaway) steeped in reporting on the civil war in El Salvador gets mixed up in an arms deal and finds herself stranded in Latin America.
What Works: The early portions of The Last Thing He Wanted play pretty well. Anne Hathaway is cast as a field reporter for a major newspaper and she is passionate about uncovering the American government’s military interventions in 1980s Latin America. The early sequences of Hathaway’s character and her photojournalist counterpart, played by Rosie Perez, reporting from warzones are gritty and tense. Willem Dafoe is cast as the father of Hathaway’s character and the father-daughter scenes also play effectively. The journalist has a complex relationship with her ailing father and she abandons her job duties to care for him and help her father with his shady business deal.
What Doesn’t: Once Anne Hathaway’s character inserts herself into her father’s business schemes, The Last Thing He Wanted goes increasingly awry. The story rests on a remarkable coincidence; Hathaway is a journalist who has been reporting on the United States’ military interventions in Latin America and it turns out her wheeler-and-dealer father is mixed up in an arms deal in that very region. This conceit strains the film’s credulity and it doesn’t get better from there. Hathaway’s character steps into her father’s place in an illegal arms deal and the other people involved take this for granted. Most of the second half of The Last Thing He Wanted is about Hathaway’s character stranded in Latin America and trying to find a way home. She is supposed to be an experienced journalist and a veteran war reporter so she ought to be savvy about who to trust and how to navigate a dangerous situation. But instead, Hathaway’s character continually makes stupid choices. Most inexplicable is her decision to trust a CIA agent who she knows is involved in the surreptitious gunrunning scheme. The film is overelaborate and confusing and not in a way that’s smart. The story often feels like the filmmakers made it up as they went along and the final twist is at once obvious and illogical. The Last Thing He Wanted is clearly intended to be a political picture as it juxtaposes the Latin American military intervention with the 1984 presidential campaign but this movie has nothing to say about that. History is just window dressing for a generic spy thriller.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: The Last Thing He Wanted is a sloppy thriller. The story makes no sense and the filmmakers play fast and loose with their credibility. This film is a mess that fails to tell a compelling mystery nor does it shed light on the period it dramatizes.
Episode: #827 (November 15, 2020)