Things to regret the next day
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, May 13, 2011
The nighttime cab ride that opens the film “Last Night” is unmistakable in its loneliness. A woman and man sit on opposite sides of the back seat, vacantly staring out the window at the illuminated city. Words aren’t necessary to convey where the pair stands in the life cycle of a lover’s quarrel: Witness the age-old silent treatment, which must have followed some perceived slight and will no doubt precede a major blowup.
First-time director Massy Tadjedin banks on the power of telling, familiar moments, betting that viewers will recognize the heartache at the center of a fleeting expression or hurried action. For the most part, her gamble pays off.
The couple in question — Joanna (Keira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington) — start fighting after a cocktail party where Joanna thinks she glimpses a flirtation between her husband and his co-worker Laura (Eva Mendes, who could make a career of playing the enticing predator). The situation unravels once the couple gets home, thanks to an escalating stubbornness that seems to be directly proportional to time spent fighting. All those glasses of wine probably don’t help things, either. The pair eventually patches things up, and all would probably go back to normal if not for the fact that Michael leaves the next morning for an overnight business trip. And Laura will be joining him.
It all seems perfectly set up for a will-he-or-won’t-he scenario, except for one compelling fact: When Joanna goes to get coffee the next morning, she runs into Alex (Guillaume Canet), otherwise known as The One That Got Away, who happens to have a dazzling smile and a killer French accent. The fact that the plot is a little too convenient may be partially forgiven by the fact that it makes for an interesting exercise, watching two people simultaneously grapple with fidelity in the face of impossibly attractive alternatives.
The movie’s leisurely pace affords time to absorb each action, which seems to have a loaded meaning — Michael stealing a glance at Laura on the train to Philadelphia; Joanna opting for fancy underwear as she prepares to meet Alex for a drink. It’s a surprisingly suspenseful undertaking, enhanced by moody lighting and a spare soundtrack of piano music.
Where the movie falters is, in part, with its insistence on quick cutting. While the technique bolsters the idea of the significance of snippets, the effect is often less revealing than distracting. Worthington, meanwhile, doesn’t offer the emotional impact of his co-stars. Although his character is more the strong, silent type, there are moments when it seems as though the audience should be feeling the torture of his dilemma, but he doesn’t fully convey his burden. And that’s enough to make you wonder whether Joanna should be with him at all.
But “Last Night” comes back around, offering something that similar films don’t — a look at the effect Joanna and Michael’s actions have on Alex and Laura. And, as with the rest of the film, it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to reveal the choppy emotional wake the married couple has left behind.
Contains language and sexual situations.