Starring: Don McKellar, Sandra Oh, Callum Keith Rennie, David Cronenberg, Tracy Wright, Geneviève Bujold, Roberta Maxwell, Robin Gammell & Sarah Polley
Directed By: Don McKellar
Screenwriter and actor Don McKellarís first feature film as a Director is a low key and subtle film which portrays the way a set of characters spend their final day on earth. The premise about the coming of the end of the world has been explored before in quite a few films. Recent efforts include Armageddon, Deep Impact and in the early 80ís New Zealand put out a muddled little film called The Quiet Earth. There have probably been more movies with this sort of premise but from memory those are the only three I can remember and all of them I might add dealt with it poorly. Armageddon and Deep Impact were cardboard, glossy Hollywood films which relied on special effects and icky over-the-top sentiment. The Quiet Earth had itís moments but suffered heavily from weak acting and a cop out ending. It gave us a big happy ending rather than deeply exploring how people dealt with the situation. It instead resorted to telling a silly story about people coming up with a stupid plan to make things right. Fortunately Don McKellarís film is fascinated with how his characters would react in this situation rather than phony sentiment, special effects or plugged happy endings.
Last Night focuses on a small group of people and how they choose to spend their final day. Among them is Patrick (Don McKellar) a slightly cynical fellow who chooses to celebrate the final hours of his existence by himself. Patrickís friend Craig(Callum Keith Rennie)decides to try and fulfill all the sexual experiences he did not previously have. For example he chooses to have sexual relations on this day with: a black women,a school teacher and a virgin. Patrickís parents set up a big dinner for all the family and seem to view the day like it was Christmas: handing out presents and having a turkey dinner. Then there is a women named Sandra (Sandra Oh) who desperately tries to find her husband (David Cronenberg) so she can spend her final hours with him. Her husband (who works for a gas company) however feels itís his duty to notify all his customers that the gas will continue to work right till the end. Then there is Patrickís sister (Sarah Polley) a peripheral character who decides to spend her final hours partying.
Director/screen writer and star of this film Don McKellar has penned a subtle and well observed script. With stuff like Patrickís family having a Christmas style dinner, a radio host playing his top five hundred songs of all-time, people looting and senselessly destroying things and the David Cronenberg character ringing all his customers to assure them the gas will still stay on, McKellar has picked up on some things which one could very well see happening. Itís believable stuff which is typically human and as a result it is quite humourous in an ironical way. Because it is so humane McKellar has also drawn a lot of poignancy from his script to create an amusing and moving motion picture.
This movie is certainly not for everyone as the subject matter to begin with is quite depressing. Also being a deliberately paced and low key motion picture which provides itís viewers with subtle pleasures it certainly wonít do anything for those expecting an intense melodrama or a special effects feast. For intelligent viewers who are on McKellarís wave length you will understand that a low key and very humane film which quietly observes itís characters rather than fetching sentimental heart felt monologues and scenes of people praying is far more realistic and moving.
As well as McKellerís portrayal of what people would do on this "last night" I also appreciated the way he presented his characters. This is a cast of characterís who to a certain extent have come to grips with the fact the world will soon end. At the same time he still displays through his characters the sadness that they are feeling. He is able to achieve this through simple conversations between characters. An example of these simple poignant moments are: the scene when Craig touchingly tells Patrick that one sexual act heíd like to do involves him and another wonderful moment is when Patrick and Sandra have one last conversation together in which they tell each other a bit about themselves. McKellar is admirably able to move us without forced sentimental monologues which a high profile Hollywood picture would no doubt opt for.
The performances in this movie are also a key to itís success. The main character is Patrick and this is played marvellously in a low-key fashion by Don McKellar. McKellarís subtle but fascinating portrayal is perhaps the filmís finest performance. In the second major role Sandra Oh delivers a stellar performance perfectly conveying the sadness of the situation and the desperation of her characterís quest to find her husband. Oh has an expressive face and she lends this well to her character. The character Craig is played by Callum Keith Rennie who easily could have fallen into the trap of making his character nothing more than a source of comic relief. Fortunately like McKellar and Oh he is able to craft a believable and convincing character. Minor characters are played by famous Director David Cronenberg (Videodrome,Existenz,Crash) and the talented Sarah Polley (Go,The Sweet Hereafter). Polley is solid in a very brief role and Cronenberg is humorous in a very dead pan manner in his equally small role.
Last Night is a very solid motion picture which is the best film Iíve seen which sports the end of the world premise. It is also one of the best efforts of 1998. A low key and very humane film which will linger on in your mind for some time