Last Night (2010)

Director: Massy Tadjedin
Genre: Drama; Gaumont

Synopsis: After seeing her husband’s stunning, but never-before-mentioned co-worker, Laura (Eva Mendes), Joanna (Keira Knightley) suspects Michael (Sam Worthington) has a reason to keep the woman a secret. After accusations fly, the two swiftly make up, that is before Michael leaves on an overnight business trip, which Laura will be attending as well. While Joanna grapples with the events of the night before, she runs into an old love she never quite got over.

Overview:  Last Night works much like a stage play, with a restraint and subtlety too few films manage to master. The story unfolds at a slow, near maddening, but strategically brilliant, pace. If Closer had a younger, less vulgar sister, Last Night would be her.

There is little background on our married couple. There are no heavy handed flashbacks. There is no clear, compelling reason these two would chose one another. There is no real reason for the audience to root for their triumph, which I suppose means love, happiness, and fidelity, by most standards. But we also don’t really need to. Part of Last Night‘s appeal comes in deciding whether or not we should care as viewers if these two stay together.

The film, directed by Massy Tadjedin, is clearly set up for a classic will-he-or-won’t-he when our protagonist runs into (or rather, is found by) her former flame, Alex (Guillaume Canet), also known as the one that got away, and sometimes referred to as you chose your husband over him. This convenient coincidence is easily forgiven, however, as the film splits the night between the two would be affairs, allowing us to watch the decisions each pair makes, and knowing that their indiscretions will likely never be discovered.

The film takes its time with each calculated step. We watch Joanna dress for her meetup with Alex, as we watch Michael exchange glances with Laura on the train; the time reflects reality. No affair is as spontaneous as it may seem. Infidelity is a series of intentional decisions, and we’re watching each character follow their chosen path steadfastly, surer than unsure.

The trysts are markedly different. Michael seems to be white knuckling it in Laura’s presence. The attraction is undeniable, and her proposition is swift and blunt. He’s in a precarious position before he presents the futile, “I’m married,” a reality secret to no one. And though Michael’s open flirtation sparked the initial marital distress, it is Joanna’s night with Alex that proves potentially more dangerous to the marriage. It’s clear to anyone with eyes why Michael would want to sleep with Laura. Alex’s presence, however, is a reminder that not all affairs are created equal. His proposition is for more than a night; it’s for Joanna back.

There’s not much catharsis to Tadjedin’s writing or direction. In fact, there is no great morality lesson present. Instead, Tadjedin lays out a series of events, abstains from the expected twist, and leaves us with the night, exactly as it happened, with little further resolution. We’re allowed a brief glimpse of the aftermath of the decisions made, with the final scene cutting brilliantly before a would-be revealing moment. The film isn’t perfect, but it creates a compelling conversation about the complexities of monogamy, and that perhaps some affairs are more destructive than others.