How could such a talented collection of actors and filmmakers be responsible for such a misfire as this awful political thriller? Dee Rees’s new Netflix film, her first since 2017’s excellent ‘Mudbound’, churns through its incoherent story at such breakneck speed that it may leave audiences with whiplash. Apparently shifting its location every other scene, ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ never holds focus long enough to make sense. It’s a deluge of narrow escapes and plot twists that feel increasingly meaningless.
Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) is a seemingly discerning journalist who unwittingly finds herself gunrunning with the Contra forces that she once wrote about. The specifics of how she’s so easily able to slip into arms-dealing is something that would likely require multiple viewing to suss out, and the experience of watching ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ is the constant feeling of having missed some vital detail. Elena spends the majority of the film at odds with Ben Affleck’s US foreign affairs official Treat Morrison, until suddenly they’re half-naked in bed together. A major plot point involves Elena having forgotten about a person whose company she was in several times, both during the timeline of the film and prior to it. The movie goes through so many quick shifts that it becomes impossible to track to whom or what anyone is aligned.
Beyond its disjointed narrative, ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ makes several baffling filmmaking decisions, big to small. An element that’s easier to forgive is the expository on-screen text, which often disappears just as quickly as it appears and, without reason, alternates between fade-ins or hard cuts. What’s harder to explain is ending the central narrative with a terrible CGI shot in which a character theatrically falls into the sea. The film resembles a rough cut in so many ways it’s a surprise that Netflix just didn’t try to bury it outright.