' ' Cinema Romantico: Last Night

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Last Night

In a perfect world “Last Night” would finally be the movie to convince everyone that, yes, Keira Knightley can act (although if it was a perfect world everyone would already know this). Yes, she’s still her usual svelte self and, yes, her jaw still juts out like the Santa Monica Pier, but since when did either of those things concern acting? Even better, “Last Night” is set in the PRESENT. No, really! It is! It’s not a period piece, even if you can easily imagine her freelance fashion writer composing tomes about what William Howe’s mistress wore to the Mischianza.

The film’s best and most crucial ten minutes is the first ten minutes and it is made so by Ms. Knightley as Joanna, spouse of Michael (Sam Worthington), one of those couples in a classic IKEA Relationship (affordable solutions for “being happy”). They attend a lavish party hosted by Michael’s work. At first, everything is cocktails and chit-chat. But then Joanna spies Michael on the balcony with a co-worker, Laura. A comely co-worker. A comely co-worker played by Eva Mendes. She places her hand on the square of Michael’s back for but a moment. That’s it. A gesture that has been made by mere friends for centuries. But clearly Joanna thinks it’s something more, and director Massy Tadjedin (who also wrote the script) is banking on Knightley conveying this fact on her lonesome. And over the next ten minutes or so, from the party to a taxi and back home, Knightley bravely flips through the emotional rolodex, from curious to confused to suspicious to shrugging it off to denial to convinced. She does it with her words, sure, and with the tone of those words, but primarily she makes the transitions, smoothly, through body language and facial tics. And you ALWAYS know what she’s thinking.

But what is Michael thinking? There’s the rub. As good as Knightley is, Worthington is, well, less than equal. As an actor Worthington reminds me of Kylie in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Remember when Mr. Fox admonishes him? “From now on can you give me a signal once in awhile just so I know if any of this is getting through to you?” No expression. “Was that it?” I kept waiting for Mendes to ask him that question when they flitted away to Philadelphia for a business trip with a third wheel who turns in at the end of the day so Michael and Laura can go out for drinks, have tantalizing conversations and then reconnoiter to the hotel pool under cover of night. Is Michael being seduced? It seems that way but Michael as played by Worthington rarely seems torn and/or turned on. He just kinda seems along for the ride – a more dour character in “Cedar Rapids”, if you will – and Mendes who can usually project sultry with the best of ‘em does not come across wholly invested in the proceedings.

Meanwhile, back on the mean streets of NYC, Joanna bumps into an old flame, Alex (Guillaume Canet), while she’s out to grab coffee. Again, we return to the face Keira. She is taken aback, ecstatic, and perplexed. Perplexed is the key, because I grant you that running into an old flame who just happens to be in from Paris and who just happens to specifically be looking for Joanna the very morning after she has begun to suspect her spouse may be unfaithful is more than a miniature contrivance. But Keira sells it. And not just when she says “I think I willed you back into my life.” The WAY she looks when she sees him SAYS that line without her saying it. See what I’m saying? Bravo, Keira. Bravo.

Each one is tempted. Each one makes a different decision. Each one reaches a moment of enlightenment, though one moment is phony and one moment is for the greater good. And even though the movie settles on one of those open endings that has become all the rage, we all know exactly what words were about to be spoken if it had run 5 seconds longer.

"We need to talk."


Andrew K. said...

Aaaah, LAST NIGHT a good movie trapped within a fair movie with one half vividly performed (limitations of the film notwithstanding) and the other half which at least tries.

Try as I might I don't know why Eva Mendes rubs me the wrong way, Worthington is more of a puzzle - fair overall generally, as you say unable to be read here, for better or worse. So that I'm not even invested in the actual relationship that's the crux (or is it?).

Canet and Knightley generally smoulder, though.

Anonymous said...

Oh I almost forgot about this one. The trailer I saw a while ago intrigued me. Ahah, well Keira CAN act some of the time, though I'm kind of bored seeing her everywhere. I think Canet's involvement is what drew me, I haven't seen anything he's in yet but I think I should check out more of his films.

Anonymous said...

I really like Kiera Knightley. I've liked her ever since I first saw her -- before she became famous -- in Bend it Like Beckham. Thanks for this movie recommendation -- I'm adding it to my list. Great review!

Derek Armstrong said...

"Her jaw juts out like the Santa Monica Pier." A Chicagoan throwing in a spot-on Los Angeles reference. Bravo!

Yep, that summarizes this movie perfectly. It's a rather middling film all told except for the luminous and magnificent way that Knightley and Canet elevate it. I'm wondering if the gender of the writer-director has something to do with this imbalance. If she wanted us to care more about Worthington's part of the story, would she have cast a better actor?

I think Kneightley deserves a huge amount of praise for this performance. I always love a performance that reminds you how important little nuances of expression are in good acting. I always come back to that scene in Birth where the camera is on Nicole Kidman's face for about two minutes straight, and through the most minute adjustments of her expression, we see how the crazy events engulfing her life outside that theater are running through her head as she is forced to take a temporary break from them while watching the performance. Yes, I just hijacked this discussion of Last Night with a discussion of Birth.