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Last Night Review: Pretty People Problems

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 24, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 24, 2011 |

Massy Tadjedin’s directorial debut is a conversation-heavy film about jealousy and infidelity that relies on looks and glances to get much of its story across; how successful you find Last Night may depend on how familiar those looks and glances feel to you. If you’ve cheated, or if you’ve attempted to read the unfaithful signals of your partner, there’s some raw emotional power in between the almost endless streams of dialogue and a final scene that resonates with quiet devastation. It’s those moments — a flicker of the eyes, a too-knowing glance — as well as a nuanced performance from Keira Knightley that salvages Tadjedin’s Last Night, elevating it ever so slight above any number of Before Sunrise knock-offs with a infidelity twist, even as the excruciatingly wooden Sam Worthington threatens to drag it under.

Last Night follows upscale New York City couple, Michael (Worthington) and Joanna (Knightley), who have an argument over one of Michael’s new co-workers, Laura (Eva Mendes). Laura’s hot; Joanna recognizes that, and she’s concerned that a Michael’s close working relationship with her might create temptation, because she saw the way that Laura had been surreptitiously eying Michael during a dinner party. Over an all-night argument, Michael mollifies Joanna’s insecurities, only then to head for an overnight business trip with Laura. And while he’s gone, an old French boyfriend, Alex (Guillaume Canet) — with whom Joanna has unresolved feelings — arrives unexpectedly, and takes Joanna out to dinner.

Over the course of the night, Tadjedin cuts between the two couples — Michael, who decided to have a drink with Laura; and Joanna, who is addressing those unresolved feelings with Alex — and creates suspense around a few potential questions: Who will cheat? Will either of them, or both of them? It also explores those grays of infidelity and examines what is worse: Lust consummated or true-love that’s not acted upon?

Last Night is quiet, slow-moving and dreary, a grim relationship drama that’s at times painfully banal and at others, intimately familiar. Unfortunately, it truly is weighed down by Worthington’s stilted performance. He’s like a Russell Crowe who has had his soul extracted, and despite Mendes’ obvious physical assets, their side of the relationship equation never gels or feels particularly believable. Knightley, on the other hand, is a glowing presence with an innate ability to speak volumes without saying anything. Watch the way her mouth moves in Last Night, and you can almost read her mind. The chemistry between her and Guillaume Canet is so real and tense, you’re never quite sure to root for adultery or not.

Last Night is obviously not for everyone; it’s an art film with a certain spare European sensibility. As with any conversation-heavy film about love and fidelity, there’s not a lot that hasn’t already been said or explored in a thousand different films, but what Tadjedin’s brings to the table is not so much new ideas as the unspoken recognizable moments behind those ideas. It’s not a great film, but it does have a wallop that can quietly sneak up on you.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.