A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Thing He Wanted is a 2020 thriller based on Joan Didion's 1996 novel of the same name. The subject is the scandalous uncovering of illegal arms deals of the 1980s covertly funded and arranged, through the sale of cocaine, by the U.S. government to deliver weaponry to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government. Bodies left behind after a massacre are shown. People are shot at and murdered. Charred bodies are seen briefly. Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. In a dim room, a couple is seen in bed after sex, topless, showing the woman's breast and mastectomy scar. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "ass," "f--got," "queer," and "damn."
What's the story?
THE LAST THING HE WANTED derives from Joan Didion's 1996 novel about plotting and covert arms deals undertaken by the U.S. government using taxpayer money to send weapons to Contras battling the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Hard-bitten American journalist Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) relentlessly covers the carnage in Central America, and like many war correspondents, can't forget the innocent dead she's seen when she returns to the States. It seems as if the government, run by Ronald Reagan seeking a second term, his military and intelligence agencies, and numerous private persons, used cocaine sale profits to smuggle arms to the Contras to bring down an inconvenient violent government. Her paper stops covering the war, but the implications are nefarious. Her father, Dick (Willem Dafoe), who left her 20 years before, shows up with memory loss and asks her to step in for him in an arms deal in Nicaragua. Cloak and dagger ensues. No one is who he or she appears to be. Elena gets stuck in Costa Rica, laying low as a hotel maid, waiting to be rescued by the American government. She has sex with a congressional adviser, or maybe a CIA agent (Ben Affleck). A funeral, a divorce, an unhappy adolescent daughter, and a bout with breast cancer are all thrown in.
Is it any good?
A surprisingly messy offering from the talented director of Mudbound, Dee Rees, this movie fails in almost every way possible. It wouldn't be an overstatement to call The Last Thing He Wanted a disaster in terms of comprehensibility, narrative drive, dramatic arc, and the simple cinematic goal of taking an audience from point A to point B in a coherent and artful way. Given Rees' demonstrated talent, one is left to wonder what factors could've led to such a disjointed result.
Engagement with the material hinges on audience understanding of a few key elements that the script ignores, including what was going on in Nicaragua in the 1980s. A few words could have illuminated the supposed American plot to stop a feared spread of Communism throughout the region. In what feels as abrupt as a jump cut, we move from a scene in which two people who barely know each other are talking, to a scene in which they are in bed together post-sex, making references to another person we've never heard of, as if we should know who that person is. Worst of all, it's impossible for actors to convincingly play characters whose motives keep changing, if they have any in the first place. Things are suddenly revealed, but we're never clear on what those new revelations mean. At film's close, the theme song from an early '60s TV show about a hired gun plays. In all, this movie feels like someone dropped an explosive in the editing room and Rees and company had to clean up as best they could.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Elena's choices. She seems to be an honest person. Do you think it makes sense for her to agree to complete an illegal deal just because her incapacitated father asks her to? Why or why not?
How does The Last Thing He Wanted compare to other political thrillers you've seen?
Have you read the book that inspired this movie? If not, are you interested in reading it now?
- In theaters: February 27, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: February 21, 2020
- Cast: Anne Hathaway, Willem Dafoe, Ben Affleck, Toby Jones, Edi Gathegi
- Director: Dee Rees
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief nudity
- Last updated: March 12, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love thrills
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch