Written by: Marco Villalobos & Dee Rees
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, Edi Gathegi, Mel Rodriguez, Toby Jones
To create an effective story, everyone can agree that having an understandable plot becomes integral. Sure, ambiguity and other devices to confuse the audience can be helpful in making unique stories, but some sort of throughline must exist. Unfortunately, this memo did not get received by those who made The Last Thing He Wanted, as it fails to be understandable in the slightest in the worst way possible.
Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) has gained an interest in covering the dealings of the Iran-Contra Affair but has been pulled off to follow the 1984 United States Presidential election instead. Infuriated for being pulled off of the scandal, but once she takes over the operation of her father’s (Willem Dafoe), she finds herself right in the middle of the mess.
For all of the love Ronald Reagan received as a president, his administration’s involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair seems to always stay off of his legacy conveniently. It displays complete corruption, which Elena found plenty of interest in trying to expose it. As a journalist, being pulled off of it in order to follow an election where the result could be determined very early, it presented her with a situation of trying to keep her job but also following something she knows could be major in the way the country operates. It sets up a meaningful story, but the way it unfolds happens in the most incompetent manner imaginable.
The main struggle The Last Thing He Wanted fails to reconcile is its incomprehensible plot. Everything, in the beginning, makes sense, as it outlines what this story means for Elena and why her principled nature brings value to the story. However, once she meets up with her father and everything unravels into her heading to Central America, the narrative falls apart horrendously. Their conversation in a bar serves as pure exposition, and it establishes she has an icy relationship with her father. That works until it goes into what her father does for a living and why in the world she would ever try to take up the mantle and complete this last job. It could be sentimental if she had any real care for this man, but the opposite gets established fairly quickly in the story. So, she’s heading to Central America to deliver unknown materials for sale and then gets involved with the Iran-Contra affair herself. The sheer unbridled lack of logic this film has cannot be understated. It even gets to a later part of the film where she gets asked why she even took on this life-threatening experience and she could not even respond. At the very least, the film could have provided it because nothing makes sense.
As the story continues in Central America, it just gets sloppier and more incomprehensible as people get introduced in waves with no context. Some are allies and others present as real threats but it became hard to follow because they would jump in and out of the story without providing proper context. Confounding storytelling idea, which can only be explained if this film had major parts of the story just cut out through editing. Several times, I had to stop and try and figure out exactly what was occurring because none of it made sense.
It would be easy to sit back and call this a badly made film, but with it coming from Dee Rees makes it all the more concerning. She’s a tremendous director with her first two features being Mudbound and Pariah. Two vital films about the black experience in two different eras, seeing her have a cast of this stature presented a wonderful opportunity, but it’s concerning how this film turned out. It represents sheer storytelling incompetence with its lack of logic and story progression in trying to explain why anything occurring makes an inkling of sense. The twists and turns it attempts to present feel completely unearned and the shocking moments only created more confusion because nothing leading up to it warranted what would eventually occur. There must be a time years later to explain what occurred in the making of this film because the combination of this premise, director, and cast of actors should not make something this horribly made. I’m genuinely shocked.
The only reason to check out The Last Thing He Wanted would be to complete Dee Rees’s filmography and if you want to watch a decent Anne Hathaway performance. Everything else exemplifies putrid storytelling with its lack of logic or narrative flow. Things just occur without any proper context and it appears huge swaths of the movie got cut out with no regard of how it would impact the final product.