Last Night Reviews
A group of very different individuals with different ideas of how to face the end come together as the world is expected to end in six hours at the turn of the century.
"Last Night" is a fascinating little film by writer/director Don McKellar. Dry-witted illusions and startling visuals open the film. It soon becomes clear that the world and it's inhabitants have only six hours remaining. The film follows how several residents of the Toronto area fill those final hours. It's never clearly stated exactly what has caused the world's condition, nor is that an important part of the story here. The main focus of the film are the characters, such as Patrick Wheeler (played by McKellar) who is a terribly lonely guy who struggles to even see his family for one last time. He wishes to end it all alone, which seems to be how he lived. Then there's his friend Craig, who is using a variety of untried sexual practices as a means to connect with someone. Isolation and loneliness are the central themes to the film. It's a recognizable representation of what the filmmaker feels would be most noticeable trait about people if all of our lives were suddenly stopped. Surprisingly, the film never becomes depressing, even as it touches on so many serious topics, including assisted suicide, but instead becomes an expression of "what if" and therefore is exceptionally thought-provoking. In fact it's a rather uplifting tale.
This is a low-budget movie that takes the apocalypse as something serious, but not in every single moment. In fact McKellar's approach is to make this at times almost 'quirky', eccentric, and even awkward comedy. At one point Patrick, character McKellar himself plays, is having a big dinner with his family and some old family friends. The mother starts to cry at the table, but no one really goes to console her or to say anything, they just keep on eating the turkey and lamb she's prepared - this is the kind of scene I might expect on the TV show Louie, where misery turns out to be uproarious comedy all based on the timing and the personality of the characters in this dreadful situation (in other words it IS a serious moment, but funny because of the reactions and how people feel about one another in that moment). And there's a whole sub-plot with a character who has been, over two months, going through sexual conquests like a check-list... and he finally approaches his friend Patrick about being a, uh, part of that.
The main thrust of the story is how Patrick and Sandra (played by Sandra Oh, no name change apparently) go about their last 6 hours, with some assorted characters drifting in and out like Sarah Polley as one of Patrick's disaffected teenage siblings, and David Cronenberg as a bureaucrat going about his last business in a giant office to call people in this city to tell them about the gas staying on until 12 PM, with pretty much every call being a voicemail. But it's less about the story of it than just following these people and finding how they deal with this despair, or not deal with it, and while some go out in the streets and loot and kill and pillage (the film opens with Sandra's car being flipped over as she goes into an empty store to get some items for no good reason at all except it's apocalypse time, better flip some cars and stuff).
There is some dramatic power here too, though in small doses and in large part coming from Sandra Oh's performance (I'd forgotten how good she can be, such as in Sideways or on the HBO show Arliss, where she was good enough for me to remember decades on). She carries a lot of weight just by the nature of her circumstance: she has to find her husband so they can carry out their simple plan together at the stroke of midnight - not being able to find a car makes things further complicated, and Patrick makes interesting by how he reacts to her plight. He's not someone who is a super-take-charge kind of guy, but he's not about to sit in the corner with his family and give up either; he's the sort to approach everyone with some decency, even in the midst of befuddlement (i.e. being approached for sex by a male friend, in a sort of 'well, it's on my list and all' sort of rationale).
At times I wasn't sure if McKellar was great for the part he wrote for himself, but at other times I don't know if anyone else could play off the awkward tension and sense of sympathy (and empathy) he carries across. He gets good work out of everyone here, most notably Cronenberg - always an underrated actor - as the man who always followed the clock and still is following it until his end (my favorite scene in the film is when he is met with a young man with a gun in his hand, who isn't sure if he can shoot him, though he may just do that, one of those moments that FEELS so real and raw).
This is not to say every moment in the film entirely works, or that every attempt to be funny in its soft-cringe like manner is effective, and it actually takes a few minutes early on to gather some momentum. But there's a rhythm to it that is unique and there's a constant sense of 'let's try something you may not have seen before with a 'This is The End' story, down to its ambiguity around why things are ending (or for how long), and some of it comes down to it being so darn... Canadian. You may never see another apocalyptic movie with so many polite people!
'Last Night' is an end-of-the-world scenario that examines how a group of individuals choose to spend their final hours on earth. Sandra (the wonderful Sandra Oh) spends all day trying to get back home to her husband Duncan (David Cronenberg) after her car is trashed by looters; Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) wants to spend the day living out all of his deepest sexual fantasies; Patrick (Don McKellar, the film's director) is a young widower who wants to spend his last evening at home listening to music; Sandra's husband Duncan owns the power station and spends his day waiting for Sandra by calling his customers to let them know that the power will remain on right to the end.
Those personal stories set this movie apart from most films about the end-times which tend to portray the end of the world as a disaster movie, with falling buildings, mass hysteria, looting and hyper-active special effects. This film is quiet because it focuses on personalities. I can imagine Robert Altman directing a movie like this.
It is directed instead by Don McKellar who shows a lot of restraint with this characters and his stories. The people act as real people would and talk as real people might. He sets the story in Toronto (this is a Canadian production) on an unknown date and never gives a reason for why the world is ending - the characters already know, so why sit around yapping about it? The sun never goes down, even at 10pm so we assume that the sun is about to go supernova (why exactly midnight is never revealed either). The mass looting has subsided because there is nothing left to steal. What looting remains only happens in the backgrounds of certain shots. There are no police anywhere and, we're told, the governments of the world shut down some time ago.
Those details in place, this is simply a movie about personalities. The most intriguing is Sandra who, I think, represents most of us. She has an agenda (one that isn't revealed until the third act) and her face is a mask of frustration as she attempts to find some mode of transportation to get across town and back to her husband. She's played by the wonderfully underrated Sandra Oh who is one of the most relaxed and natural actresses. I've seen her in films like Sideways and Rabbit Hole but there she reveals a whole different level. What is waiting for Sandra when she gets back with Duncan is painful, but even more is the issue of not getting being able to back to him. She as a promise to keep to him and it is killer her that she cannot fulfill it.
Nothing can bring about our faith nor our true nature like knowing that the end is near. That fact brings an odd unpredictability to Last Night because we get to know the characters but we wait to see the poignancy in their final moments. This is a sad film but not a maudlin one. The fact that director Don McKellar avoids the obvious melodramatic high point and just focuses on people and who they are makes the end of the film inevitable, unpredictable on a personal level and finally very touching.