Friday, 15 April 2011

Last Night

There’s a scene in Massy Tadjedin’s Last Night where Sam Worthington’s Michael makes scrambled eggs for his wife Joana. The way that Tadjedin shoots, and writes, the film you sense that she is making an attempt to shoot the scene in some semblance of real-time with the appearance of as little editing as possible. He cracks a couple of eggs, adds some milk and salt; whisks it for all of ten seconds; fries it for all of ten more and then serves it. It’s the slightest of gripes, but it sort of encapsulates my bigger issues with the film. In the same way Michael couldn’t possibly have made scrambled eggs in that span of time, I have no belief in the veracity of a four year marriage between him and Joana. The ingredients are there for a midnight argument about potential infidelity to set it all in motion, but when Keira’s Joana gets jealous at a party it seems inauthentic - just like that plate of scrambled eggs.

As rudimentary as it is, the impetus for the film seems vaguely inspired. A married couple spend a night apart and both ruminate on issues of fidelity. There’s a subtle – if overworked – irony to be found in their indecisiveness even as Tadjedin roots the films in that same uncertainty with the film’s clever title Last Night. Is it the marriage’s last night or will what happened last night be a defining moment in their marriage? Who knows? It begins in the most mundane of ways. Michael and Joana head to a party and in indiscreet pat which Eva Mendes’ Laura pays to her co-worker (Michael) is taken into context. The very fact that Laura is being played by Mendes all but assures us that she’s a more than just sensual temptress not just a little in touch with the more physical side of womanhood. Naturally, Joana – always perceptively – wonders why he never mentioned how alluring his co-worker was, which leads the film into one of its first moments of imprecision. For a marriage that seems essentially fine, languid even, the fight which Joana picks seems ridiculous even if Tadjedin  manages – in theory – to accomplish that mundane nature of arguments between the restless married. It makes me wonder, though, Joana seems to be halfheartedly committing to the argument which suggests at things to come and her own potential infidelities.

When Michael heads off to his business meeting, with Laura no doubt, and Joana runs into her ex-boyfriend (or current?) slickly played by Guillame Canet, who gives the film’s finest performance, we know that Massy Tadjedin is intent on splitting our main couple up to test their relationship. The thing is, the film spends such little time establishing any legitimacy of said relationship. True, it’s difficult to have interest in Worthington and Mendes as a couple – if only because Worthington seems altogether more at ease with Knightley. But, the audience feels no sense of trepidation at the continuous “will-they-or-won’t-they” issue; it ends up becoming a “why-don’t-they-just-do-it-already” issue. And, it's entirely possible that the film could, or perhaps should, work without any hint of suspense but Tadjedin isn't an interesting enough director to make it work without the suspense, and the story is too deliberately for their to be any actual suspense.
So, in the end, the film ends up becoming an undercooked serving of eggs. Massy Tadjedin thinks it enough just to put a quartet of fairly attractive actors ranging from good to competent. None of the actors could be accused of giving terrible performances, though Keira’s natural cadence renders her storyline more interesting by default. Last Night is competent enough, it moves along capably but without zest, so when it ends with what should be a cliff-hanger of sorts you’re left there not hateful of what’s gone before but indifferent. 


anahita said...

Hmmn, I'm still excited to see this. I find with these sorts of films that it's the performances that are the most important aspect - were they good on the whole? xx

Fitz said...

Disappointing, but if given the chance I might just see it.

W.R. said...

He did make those eggs pretty damn fast. Overall, I thought it was great. The argument felt realistic, thank goodness Knightley didn't overplay it. There's an obvious rapport between Laura & Michael at the party that it does seem odd that he never mentioned her before. Add Laura's obvious beauty and the amount of (work)time that the two have spent together and Joanna's uneasiness doesn't seem unwarranted.