Some viewers will think that’s charming and that it engenders lots of dialogue. Other viewers will feel that it’s just plain incomplete.
Joanna Reed (Keira Knightley) is a slender, attractive young woman living in New York City, married for three years to Michael (Sam Worthington), and together they have a nice apartment, stylish friends, and meaningful work. What could go wrong?
Joanna notices at a party for Michael’s work friends that a certain lovely colleague of his, Laura (Eva Mendes) seems to act a little too interested. Is this just shallow jealousy or did she pick up some real vibes? When she tries to talk to him about it later, he accuses her of picking a fight over nothing. The truth is, of course, that her intuition is right. There is, actually, some sexual tension between Michael and Laura. They just haven’t expressed it to each other, but they do enjoy playing with fire and seeing the sparks fly between them. They take off on a business trip together the next morning, and although other colleagues are present, Joanna still feels uneasy. And, it turns out, for good reason.
After Michael leaves the next morning, still somewhat indignant, Joanna happens to run into an old flame, Alex (Guillame Canet), who in turn prevails on her to come to dinner with him and some friends, and it’s obvious to the friends that there’s some unfinished business here, and they’re watching some relational electricity, as well.
The film then alternates between Joanna’s evening and Michael’s, both in different cities, both in the company of people to whom they are not married, both getting increasingly sloshed, and both gradually letting down their guard. In a way, it’s like a long, slow seduction, but there’s no striptease. No nudity. It’s all in the furtive glance, the longing in the eyes, the embarrassed laugh, and the emotional intimacy of talking about attraction with someone that you’re obviously attracted to.
Knightley, the veteran of period pieces and fantasy films, hasn’t done too many of these “natural” roles, but she’s a natural. Worthington’s range diminishes greatly when he plays painfully indecisive; it comes out looking like he has stomach gas. The sensuous Mendes is well-suited for the role of subtle seductress, but we’re just not sure about the believability of the business meetings. Canet seems mostly either bemused or bewildered, and his dinner friends are kind of meaningless distractions. But Knightley is the one we care about, because we sense the depth of her ambivalence, and the complexity of jealousy morphing into flirtation, which begins innocently, but then…..where can it even go from there?
“Last Night” would be good discussion material for a gathering of young married couples who want to talk about the murky dynamics of relating to persons of the opposite gender other than your spouse. Then again, it’s one thing to decide what you’d do in theory, and another to actually be face-to-face with the incarnation of your greatest temptation.
Ronald P. Salfen is co-pastor of United Presbyterian Church, Greenville, Texas