If early word is any indication, Netflix’s “The Last Thing He Wanted” is “a complete letdown.”
The political drama/mystery from director Dee Rees (“Mudbound”) premiered at Sundance on Monday, ahead of its Feb. 15 release on the streaming platform. The film, which stars Anne Hathaway (“The Devil Wears Prada”), Willem Dafoe (“Spider-Man”), and Ben Affleck (“Good Will Hunting”), is based on Joan Didion’s 1996 novel of the same name.
The first wave of reactions came on Twitter from film critics, including The Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr, who called it “one of the worst movies I’ve seen in 20 years of Sundance,” and First Showing’s Alex Billington, who tweeted “this film is a huge mess, a complete letdown.”
Weird day: Caught three of the best movies I've seen at this year's #Sundance — PALM SPRINGS, MINARI, and the exquisite TIME — followed by one of the worst movies I've seen in 20 years of Sundance, the incomprehensible, aptly titled THE LAST THING HE WANTED.
— Ty Burr (@tyburr) January 28, 2020
The Last Thing He Wanted – Ooooph. Hate to say it but this film is a huge mess, a complete let down. Editing is a disaster, hard to even make sense of it. Anne Hathaway is okay but everything else about it is forgettable. #Sundance2020
— Alex Billington @ Sundance (@firstshowing) January 28, 2020
As full-length reviews were published on Tuesday, the consensus was similar. Multiple critics described the movie as “incomprehensible” and “incoherent,” with scribes dinging its “convoluted” narrative and “jarring” editing. Although critic aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes has only catalogued nine reviews of “The Last Thing He Wanted” at the time of this article’s publication, all nine were pans, giving the film an initial freshness rating of 0 percent.
“It’s as if an entire season of television had been whittled down to under two hours, or as if someone had taken a book and ripped out chapters at random,” Mashable’s Angie Han wrote. “It is, in short, completely incoherent.”
“As a two-hour film packed with too much and somehow not enough, ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ is a thing that no one wanted,” wrote The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee.
IndieWire’s Kate Erbland was slightly more charitable in her review, noting that Didion’s novels aren’t “necessarily translatable to other mediums,” but nevertheless considered the film a failure.
“Dee Rees’ ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ is the filmmaker’s fourth feature and her first misfire,” Erbland wrote, “an incoherent offering that is done no favors by its unforgiving material and even less by an array of miscast stars and baffling narrative choices.”
Based on the pedigree of the cast and the rising star of Rees, whose last film with Netflix (2017’s “Mudbound”) received four Oscar nominations, expectations were high for the film.
The plot centers on Washington Post reporter Elena McMahon (Hathaway), who quits her job and decamps to Florida to visit her ailing father, Richard (Dafoe), an aged gunrunner. Elena eventually becomes a pawn in a plot to covertly sell arms to rebels in Central America via the U.S. government. Affleck, meanwhile, plays Treat Morrison, a high-level government official who in Didion’s novel becomes romantically entangled with Hathaway’s character.
Fortunately for Affleck, “The Last Thing He Wanted” is not the only chance he has to impress moviegoers this winter. The Cambridge native will next appear in “The Way Back,” an addiction drama directed by Gavin O’Connor (“The Accountant”) that’s slated to hit theaters March 6.