Last Night (2011), with Keira Knightley: A Gem. Movie Review

by Mira

A gripping little movie about temptation and fidelity in a loving relationship, from writer-director Massy Tadjedin. Wonderful acting from all the leads. Very few spoilers.

I watched a really accomplished movie last evening, called Last Night, starring Keira Knightley. I’ve become quite a fan of hers, particularly after her highly charged performance in A Dangerous Method, the movie about Carl Gustav Jung. Well, the verdict is in: she is good. Very good. She still has her mannerisms, her way of pushing forward her bottom teeth when she smiles, but I won’t hold that against her. She’s a terrific actress, and I’m happy to have seen her in yet another movie.

And this is not just any movie. Iranian American writer-director Massy Tadjedin, here at her directorial debut, managed to come up with a really tight movie. The storyline is simple: man and woman have a good, loving relationship, but man meets a temptress, and woman reconnects with an old “flame.” It could have been so cheesy, so boring, so not worth watching. And yet, until the scene at the end that pulls together the whole story to an end and the beginning of another story, the movie acts on you in a gentle yet compelling way. This is not a run-of-the-mill chick flick. It's a charming movie that finds an honest tone and makes the best of it.

The dialogue may not be sparkling, but there’s something in the movie that makes it very good. I understand that initially the writer tended to overuse dialogue to the expense of gestural expression. Yet somehow at the end there’s such a carefully choreographed interplay between the two that you watch the movie riveted. The situations and tone are spot-on, incredibly honest, and a perfect marriage of life and art in that the art echoes only the important bits, the ones that stay with you in life as well.

The actors give fabulous performances, all of them: Keira Knightley, Eva Mendes, Sam Worthington, Guillaume Canet, and, in a secondary role, Griffin Dunne.

Last Night on DVD

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The Plot

Keira Knightley plays Joanna, a writer and journalist. Sam Worthington gives a subtle and understated performance as her husband Michael. Some found his acting “wooden” but there’s a lot of emotion and thinking behind those eyes. I’ve rarely seen a film character convey so deftly the confusion of a principled, faithful husband over being tempted to cheat on his wife.

Eva Mendes as Laura is the temptress. Great acting on her part, too, and equally understated in the more important moments.

Guillaume Canet is Alex, Joanna’s ex-boyfriend. He shows up when Michael is on a business trip in Philadelphia with his coworker. I’m reading he’s a prized actor in France. I can see why.

Last Night (Blu-ray)

Guillaume Canet is so good . . . ! He holds his own against Keira Knightley, which is not easy. You’d think she’d steal this show but every actor is just a formidable presence in this movie.

There’s also Griffin Dunne as Truman, a publisher. I absolutely loved his performance. It comes as a bit of a surprise in the movie, with all its exuberant bluntness, and yet this role of a frank, straightforward character that passes moral judgment is an age-old device in literature.

Last Night (2011) is a movie not to be missed. From the few comments online, I gather this movie was not distributed widely in cinemas. Hope the next movies from Massy Tadjedin will. She is one filmmaker I imagine we'll be hearing a lot more about in the coming years.

Last Night Movie Poster
Last Night Movie Poster
Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington in Last Night (2011)
Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington in Last Night (2011)

I imagine that this movie was meant to be a light dance around an important question. Given the acting, however, it’s a gem. Do watch it!

Updated: 09/15/2013, Mira
 
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Mira on 05/07/2016

Interesting point. Thank you, Derdriu!

DerdriuMarriner on 05/07/2016

Mira, Thank you!
Some acting quirks appear to be ideated and promoted by the actor, the agent, the director and the fans. It's not always obvious who is responsible since not everyone takes advantage of an interview to reveal the what and why of quirks. Gabriel Byrne, for example, says that he went through an annoying stage of putting in limps, tics, whatever, just to try to call attention to himself.
Sam Worthington tends to fit in the category of actors who have an economy of expressions and gestures and perfect transmitting feelings and thoughts, Gary Cooper- and silent film star-style, through the eyes.

Mira on 02/08/2014

Hi Emma, your comment was funny, too. I agree about Tom Cruise's smile!!
And yes, this movie is definitely worth seeing! Quite well done!!

Guest on 02/08/2014

Mira, Your comment about Keira's habit of "pushing forward her bottom teeth when she smiles" gave me quite a few chuckles! That quirky habit of hers recalls to my mind Sean Young's way of speaking, which I wouldn't even begin to know how to describe and which could be rather distracting sometimes but I guess that some were fascinated by it: for me, I wonder if it's natural or deliberate or a bit of both, like Tom Cruise's smile?
At any rate, tangential musings aside, your review is persuasive. I don't know how I've missed the film, as I tend to enjoy Keira Knightley's films. I just checked, and it's in the library's holdings but currently checked out. I'll watch for it on the shelf.

Mira on 10/11/2013

Thank you for your comment, Tolovaj.
Limited time sounds good if it's limited by something you enjoy doing and people you like spending time with. Hope that's the case!

Tolovaj on 10/10/2013

I rarely find a moment to enjoy the movie lately, because my time is limited. It is interesting to see how Keira Knightley is becoming stronger and stronger in her roles. Thanks for the recommendation!

Mira on 09/28/2013

Well, I decided to do it this way for most movie reviews I post here. It's often hard to decide exactly what to reveal. After this movie Keira Knightley is officially on my list of favorite actresses :)

WriterArtist on 09/28/2013

I liked the way you have reviewed the movie keeping the story a suspense. It is like opening the note in a great way to enchant the audience and yet, not revealing the most prominent part of the story.

Mira on 09/21/2013

:-) It's good. Quite nice to find a good film nowadays. I watch many but only a few are memorable. And, of course, they don't have to be perfect to be memorable. They just have to stand out in some way. Here it's the choice of situations and the acting, and that wonderful discovery of yet another great actor (Guillaume Canet).

MonisMas on 09/20/2013

I haven't see it. Now I have to.


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