by Greg Muskewitz
If you're tired of those big-budget apocalyptic "end of the universe" movies like "Deep Impact," "Armageddon," or the
more recent "End of Days," Don McKellar's "Last Night" may be the perfect alternative. It's a quiet movie which examines each little corner and crack, and in the process of doing so, provides a frequent, though loose captivation, and a unique spin on a worn concept.Simply enough, the world is ending -- and in six hours. The story unfolds almost all its connections initially through the phone calls of Duncan (David Cronenberg), a gas company employee contacting all customers ("We will do our utmost to keep the gas flowing until the very end."). The main protagonist is Patrick (Don McKellar), who, upon the request of his parents (Robin Gammel and Roberta Maxwell) and sister Jennifer (Sarah Polley), celebrates Christmas even though it's obviously not so. Despite the festive activities, Patrick wants to spend the final few hours at home, alone. Sitting outside the door to his apartment building is Sandra (Sandra Oh), a young Asian woman hoping to use his phone. Things haven't been going her way either, having already had her car flipped, and getting stranded in the wrong part of town. Unable to reach her husband on the phone, Patrick sets out to help her find a car. On the way, they run into Craig (Callum Keith Rennie), a life-long friend of Patrick's who is in the process of living out his last fantasies. With lackluster success, Sandra reveals the intent of the rendezvous with her husband -- to kill each other together. Her reasoning lies within the fact that they don't believe in being taken against their own will, and will handle it themselves waiting until the very last moment. Still unable to reach her husband, she tries to recruit the help of Patrick.
McKellar, besides acting in and directing "Last Night," is also the film's writer; when it comes to the big pictures and reasons, McKellar is scant on information. The actual reasoning behind the end of the world, or the cause of death of Patrick's wife, or the sudden disappearance of Sandra's husband, is never discussed, disclosed, or questioned. Like the end, to us it's just a great white flash; everything was accepted as it was, and the audience need not suspend their disbelief.
Although this may be McKellar's first stint in writing and directing -- and by no means his last -- he has established himself in such auspicious films as "eXistenZ," "The Red Violin," and "Exotica," with the former two being some of the year's most entertaining and noteworthy. He never makes his film too perky, nor too much of a downer, but keeps the audience at a constant involvement, both psychologically and emotionally. On a personal note, including Canadian McKellar's film, some of the more intriguing and overall outstanding films of this year have come from Canada, including "eXistenZ" (by director Cronenberg, who takes a turn acting here), Atom Egoyan's "Felicia's Journey," Francois Girard's "The Red Violin," as well as other, more obscure titles -- as if these weren't obscure enough already.
The acting is generally very good here, ranging from decent (Rennie) to super (Genevieve Bujold, Cronenberg) to outstanding (McKellar, Oh, and a smaller Polley). Bujold, who is also very limited in interaction, delivers and disappears (much like she does herself when not in a film). Sandra Oh ("Double Happiness --not to be mistaken with the singleness of just plain "Happiness") fits in more ways than one, but mainly for the humanity and humaneness she brought to the character. And Sarah Polley, glowing above the rest in almost everything from "The Sweet Hereafter" to "Go," and "The Hanging Garden," "Exotica," or "Guinevere" -- not to mention that this young Canadian actress as well was in "eXistenZ" -- also brings a level of originality in approach and uniqueness in her bravura performances.
The pacing may be a little offset, but its effect upon the whole creates an undeniable balance in the film's sense of schemes. And the ending of "Last Night," to borrow an adjective from Duncan Shepherd's review, is none the less "potent."Final Verdict: B
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2775&reviewer=172
originally posted: 12/16/99 04:49:18