By The Playlist | The Playlist April 26, 2011 at 2:51AM
While it boasts a strong, marquee-named cast and some decent performances, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and French actor/director Guillaume Canet ("Tell No One," Marion Cotillard's baby daddy) Iranian-American screenwriter Massy Tadjedin's directorial debut, "Last Night," is an unconvincing portrait of unhappiness and marital disenfranchisement. A largely hollow couples-in-crisis infidelity drama, the picture lacks any romantic or sexual electricity, and doesn't possess many glimmers of substantive sparks. Characters go through the motions, but rarely do they echo in any resonant manner. While "Last Night" attempts to document the collapse of a marriage during one evening and the occurrences and issues that lead up to such an unfortunate event, it simply leaves one yearning for much, much more.
Knightley and Worthington star as a successful and posh New York married couple living in some sweet Tribeca digs. Their existence feels like a cocoon of privilege and wealth, and therefore, they're bored with their lives and possess wandering eyes because they can. The couple, who lack much of a connection as far as actor to actor goes, seem mildly happy, while not entirely discontent either. He's a successful business type (he "closes deals" but what he actually does appears to be nebulous), and she's grappling with writer's block after her well-received debut novel. After the rather banal relationship set-ups are established, the couple attend a swanky party for his job and then the troubled seams in their relationship begin to show.
Knightley's Joanna Reed catches her husband Michael, casually connecting with and accepting the mild flirtations of his co-worker Laura (Mendes). They touch elbows, laugh heartily and fetch each other drinks while Joanna, who is on the outside of all this, sits and bitterly stews instead of trying to have a good time. All in all, they are pretty minor discretions, but we soon find out that Laura and Michael were on a business trip together the previous weekend -- he had never mentioned this -- and Laura's insecurity and jealousy start to rise up like a flaming blister.
While (mild spoiler, beware), it appears that Joanna will have something to truly be jealous of later on, her early accusations and pouting seem childish and unwarranted. Meanwhile, Worthington's Michael tries to assure and assuage his wife while simultaneously holding a candle for his co-worker Laura. The bigger question is why. The shallow picture, through its narrative and emotional notes, fails to prove or provide any evidence of a true kismet between Michael and Laura either romantically, socially or sexually and this is one of many suspension of disbelief dealbreakers that takes you out of the picture early on.
One of the main issues of with "Last Night" is that its bifurcated narrative has a very weak link. Not only do Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes and their story lack any heat and chemistry, there's no narrative or emotional groundwork laid down for a meaningful reason why these two people would hook up other than their looks. The affairs or even teases of infidelity are not warranted or earned. There's no real believable reason why Worthington would want to cheat on his wife other than the fact that Mendes is attractive and he seems mildly distracted, but it's never enough and the audience is left to presume too much of their past which we haven't seen or felt onscreen. Tadjedin, who wrote the psycho-thriller "The Jacket" in 2005 with Knightley and Adrien Brody, seems to have been so consumed with directing, she's forgotten to actually raise the building blocks necessary to explain the psychological insecurities and fears in the picture.
Meanwhile, as Micheal heads out on another business trip with Laura, Joanna randomly (and oh so conveniently) runs into a past paramour on the streets of New York. A handsome, French ex-lover (Canet) from a promising relationship cut short that she has never truly forgotten (a dangerous and tempting ex if there ever was one). While this rote and auspicious plot conflict feels like an eye-rolling one, it's one audiences will ultimately be glad to take
Real chemistry does actually exist between Knightley and Canet (the two stronger actors in the picture) and when they accidentally and fatefully bump into each other and and meet-up later, the film wakes up to life -- Canet seemingly raising Knightley's game to a higher level as the picture starts to engage and their laughter, furtive glances and flirtatious moments begin to feel palpable, genuine and borderline intoxicating. Griffin Dunne shows up later on at a dinner as an elder-statesman of amour and friend of Canet. And while his on-the-nose, be-careful-what-you-wish-for-buddy character is one note, he too is charming enough for you to forgive and forget.
Less forgivable, aside from the rather dry and predictable infidelities that seemed predestined from minute one -- killing any real suspense -- is this second storyline's breakdown which is pretty much the nail in the final coffin for the picture. Canet and Knightley's brief beguiling coquetry collapses into bickering, cheating negotiations and unflattering pouting on the side of the Frenchman. All of it pretty much reminds you that all of these people are shallow, selfish, self-centered, unlikable and ungrateful for what they have. Only Knightley's character seems to retain some dignity with her wiser decisions in the end. On the other side of the film, Mendes and Worthington simply meander around in a mood that is completely flat and unengaging.
Scored by Clint Mansell, while the music quietly tries to subtly suggest the pains, insecurities and deceits of love, we'd be remiss if we didn't admit that it mostly played out in the forgettable background. Well shot by Peter Deming, the picture's direction still has little to be desired as longing glances and vacant stares into the New York skyline seem to act as a poor solution for what the narrative lacks.
While Worthington received some good (and yet, puzzling) notices for his performance in Cate Shortland's excellent Aussie drama "Somersault" (which justifiably made the Cannes Un Certain Regard section in 2004 and is probably more noteworthy for Abbie Cornish's brave turn), Worthington is largely wooden in this film and doesn't demonstrate that his hulking looks and build are useful for anything beyond summer blockbusters directed by James Cameron. Mendes, who doesn't have much to work with is also quite unremarkable and Knightley and Canet struggle to do their best in a picture that has little of anything to say. While they have the occasional scintilla between them, it is not enough to brighten this otherwise depthless picture.
Ultimately, "Last Night" says little why people stray, why love fades or about temptation and lust other than it's right there for the taking if you want it to be. As for love, well, it's there for the squandering if you so choose. Though the true crime of the picture might just be how bland it is, it's not a egregious picture by any means, just a very forgettable one. [C-]