Thursday, 22 December 2011

Last Night - a belated appreciation of the Keira Knightley movie

I picked up the DVD of the movie Last Night at my local charity store. This is the first time I’ve found anything worthwhile to view in the bargain box.
But I can see why the copy's previous owner might want to dump the film – and why the movie was for the most part poorly received when it was released last year.
Certificate 12, it could appear lightweight to a redbloodied film like the earlier Closer, which was a similar four-hander about relationships.
There is little plot. Set in New York, Keira Knightley bumps into an old flame visiting from France, Guillaume Canet, while her husband played by Sam Worthington is out of town on business with a work colleague, the seductive Eva Mendes.
Yes, in intercutting the night the young couple spend apart, there is an element of will they/won’t they be unfaithful to the other. But director Massy Tadjedin has big ambitions for a 90 minutes movie which looks like it was shot – in 2008 – on a cheapish budget.

The viewer isn’t asked to sympathise with any one character. Rather we are presented with four outwardly successful, inwardly unhappy people and test our own experience of life in concluding which direction their lives will go the morning after the night before.
The film's ending is enigmatic but not in an irritating way. If nothing else it poses the question – who is guilty of the greater infidelity, the wife who still carries a torch for an old lover or the husband left guilt-ridden by a one night stand?
Last Night is more about unfulfilled desire than sex – as Mick Jagger sang, “You can’t always get what you want.”

I can understand why the leads were attracted to their roles – between cocktails the men are tortured souls. Mendes is a temptress but a lonely one for all her sexual allure.
The movie, however, stands or falls by Knightley’s performance. On the down side the pitch of her voice takes some time to adjust to; I hadn’t noticed before how irritating it can be.
But around 15 minutes into the film another thought occurs which chases away such trifles – Knightley has developed into a first rate actress.
To this end her beauty distracts rather than aids her performance. In the movie reference is made – quite appropriately – to Knightley’s good looks when she meets Canet’s friends for the first time.
But here again this is forgotten; her expressive face holds the attention throughout the movie when its attractiveness alone couldn’t have gone the distance.

A general problem with the film is that it has taken so long to reach the screen and my Oxfam shop that the New York yuppie milieu seems wrong.
Of course it would be unfair to expect the film to reflect recent events like the Occupy Wall Street movement. But the well-heeled life styles of the principals seem a little too snug – and the couple’s apartment too vast – out of step in today’s tight economic environment.
But this is a quibble. Last Night stayed with me longer than many a more self-important film I’ve seen in recent time.

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