- Rated R
All photos © Tribeca Film
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
assy Tadjedin’s directorial debut, “Last Night,” is the kind of movie that would typically be described as an adult drama. So why does it feel like it was written by a bunch of children? A character-driven tale about a husband and wife whose marriage is tested when they’re tempted by a night of lust with another member of the opposite sex, the film seeks to examine the moral implications of succumbing to that temptation. Or in other words: to cheat or not to cheat? But despite its A-list cast and a strong central performance from star Keira Knightley, “Last Night” fails to be as exciting or as sensuous as it should be due to the fact that it’s populated by some of the most unlikable characters to grace a movie in years.
Knightley stars as Joanna Reed, a freelance fashion writer living with her husband Michael (Sam Worthington) in a posh New York apartment that only exists in the movies. They’re both good-looking and well-to-do, and they seem to be happily married, but after Joanna meets Michael’s new colleague, Laura (Eva Mendes), at a cocktail party one night, she can’t help but be suspicious that he’s having an affair. He’s not, but the seed of doubt has already been planted. So when Michael leaves for a business trip to Philadelphia the next morning, all it takes is the coincidental arrival of her former flame, Alex (Guillaume Canet), to set the inevitable into motion. With the prospect of Michael spending time alone with the beautiful Laura in Philly, Joanna agrees to a night out with Alex, who clearly still has feelings for her.
That’s not an awful lot to build a movie around, which is why it feels like Tadjedin is running in circles as she teases the audience with the will-they-won’t-they tension of Michael and Joanna’s potential affairs. It makes for some fascinating interactions at first, but it eventually becomes tiresome and quite pretentious, as the characters engage in flirty, hypothetical conversations that will make you want to yell at the screen, “Just do it already!” Exploring human nature and the morality of marriage is one thing, but “Last Night” keeps bandying about this idea that men and women simply can't be friends without sex involved, and that's just a really immature approach to relationships.
This is never more apparent than with the characters themselves, who are selfish, hypocritical and rarely likable, to the point that you couldn't care less if they cheat or not, because they deserve each other. One such character, a friend of Alex’s played by Griffin Dunne, asks Joanna some of the most inappropriate questions that a complete stranger could ask, and then laughs off his terrible manners as if it’s somehow cute. Others demand things they have no right to demand – particularly Alex, who never once backs off from his advances on Joanna, despite having a girlfriend of his own. At least Laura is a little more subtle about it. While she makes no attempts to disguise her attraction to Michael, Laura doesn’t openly (or in Alex’s case, aggressively) pursue a sexual encounter, and as a result, is the only character the audience can connect with.
Unfortunately, Tadjedin doesn’t seem to be as interested in that side of the story, because she spends a lot more time following Joanna and Alex around New York City as they flirt with the idea of reigniting their brief romance from several years before. It certainly helps that Knightley and Canet have such great chemistry (especially when compared to Worthington’s wooden performance), but even that doesn’t make the material any more appealing. “Last Night” shows real promise in the opening minutes, and the inconclusive finale is a brilliant display of how editing can alter your perception of a story, but just like the characters, the film is nothing more than an elaborate tease.