Writer-director Tadjedin’s clever and knowing film is certain to be labelled as a “relationship drama” (I’ve just done it) because life’s a rush and we often require descriptive shorthand. It would be unfair to judge it by that summary, however, because this is an absorbing, enigmatic, occasionally amusing, and quite poignant film.
Trust, betrayal and temptation lie in wait for Joanna and Michael Reed (Knightley and Worthington), a successful professional couple living in New York. At a work event Joanna senses an attraction between her husband and his new colleague, Laura (Mendes), and though any impropriety is denied, it leads them to an argument when they return to their apartment. And, while they manage to make up, tension hangs in the air with Michael due to leave on a business trip with Laura the following morning.
Joanna promises to be a dutiful writer while Michael is away, suggesting the trip is an opportunity for her to have precious creative time but this fallacy dissipates as she leaves the flat in search of a caffeine fix. It’s a journey that produces a chance meeting with Alex (Canet), a charismatic Frenchman, who was, briefly, Joanna’s partner. The two arrange to meet for dinner.
With Joanna and Michael separated, deception and paranoia come to the fore and Last Night becomes a will-they-won’t-they?’ story of potential infidelity. This progression is handled with care and there is no suggestion of veering towards thriller territory. Instead, we flit back and forth as the couples explore their romantic entanglements.
Tadjedin’s script is littered with sarcasm, barbs and the bittersweet remarks that underscore a relationship. For every “I love you,” there is also a deft swipe at a partner’s failings. There are insightful touches, too, notably in the few minutes that Joanna takes to get ready for her works party with Michael and the time and dedication she puts into her dinner date with Alex.
Knightley’s performance is attention-grabbing but includes glimpses of subtlety that create a more-nuanced character, thankfully there are only a handful of those inauthentic ‘head-back-laughing’ moments that crop up in her perfume ads. Worthington’s portrayal is less successful as he does little to convince how this man would attract the interest of either Joanna or Laura.
Last Night is enjoyable and rewarding and does much to illustrate how films that focus on less-overtly cinematic subjects can be revealing, entertaining and thought-provoking. It may not deliver the grandiose impact of a summer blockbuster but this film is likely to linger a little longer in the memory.