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Movie Review

Last Night

Light ‘Night’ for Knightley: She plays one half of a couple tempted by others

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / May 13, 2011

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After slogging through “Atonement ’’ and wilting in “Never Let Me Go,’’ Keira Knightley needs a movie which doesn’t take itself so seriously that all you can do is laugh at it. “Last Night’’ might not take itself seriously enough. It’s a light, minor, eventually tedious movie about married Manhattan yuppies — Sam Worthington plays Knightley’s spouse — who spend one evening in separate cities feeling out their attraction to other people. It’s the sort of movie that thinks cutting between two different stories makes it art. Usually, it feels like an exercise in art. There’s a lot of calisthenics but very little beauty or truth or whatever it is the movie is going for.

Massy Tadjedin wrote and directed “Last Night.’’ To her credit, she’s not straining for real depth. She couldn’t be: There’s a part here for Eva Mendes. She plays a co-worker who spends her scenes looking scrumptious to Worthington, who, in turn, spends the movie looking scrumptious to us. Tadjedin usually films these two staring at each other, then staring some more. Few words pass between them, and the ones that do aren’t terribly interesting. It’s nice to see mannequins get such good work.

Both Mendes and Worthington can be more than props. Or: They can make the most of that pigeonhole; Mendes, especially, in similar parts. Good directors, like James Gray and Werner Herzog, have required her to do all her acting using whatever she’s got that’s round or curved. But this movie doesn’t give the curves or their owner much of a chance. There is a scene in a swimming pool that ends with what looks like a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress being ripped open. But the mild air of shallowness is so contagious that all I could think when it occurs is: Who would let that happen to that dress?

The entire movie is a gift to Knightley. The writer she plays, Joanna, catches her husband, Michael, and the sexy co-worker Mendes plays at a party sharing a moment on the terrace. A federal case is made. He denies it and works hard to reel her off the couch. But Tadjedin’s writing gives us a woman capable of being convinced by herself alone. At some point during the argument, Joanna tells him, “I’d spare you.’’ It’s quite a line, both for what it implies about her conjugal character and for the pointed way that Knightley lances her opponent with it.

There’s more where that came from. One afternoon Joanna leaves her overly handsome apartment and runs into Alex (the French writer and director Guillaume Canet), with whom she had a fling before she and Michael were married. They go pontificating around the city, while Michael’s away on business in Philadelphia with you-know-who, winding up at a party where a friend of Alex (Griffin Dunne) asks whether she’ll tell Michael about tonight. “I don’t know,’’ she replies, “tonight’s not over yet.’’

Knightley is a delirious conflation of colt and coquette. She’s barely 26, and sometimes you wonder if she’ll ever have another part that does the conflation the exhilarating justice that Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice’’ did a million years ago (it was only six, but, really, where’s she been?). The movies need that jaw line and those cheekbones, and the bangs that cast a curtain of mystery across her face. (She could stand to eat something, too; her curvelessness makes her Mendes’s antonym.)

“Last Night’’ pleases the actress’s loyalists, a group that clearly includes Tadjedin. But after about 40 minutes of blinking between New York and Philadelphia, you do wonder if it would have killed the writer-director to be as generous with the rest of the cast as she is with Knightley.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

LAST NIGHT Written and directed by: Massy Tadjedin

Starring: Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, Guillaume Canet, and Griffin Dunne

At: Coolidge Corner

Running time: 94 minutes

Rated: R (some strong language and Eva Mendes in wet underwear)

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