Movie review: The Last Man

Hayden Christensen just can’t get a break.  After his universally panned performance as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episodes II and III (I’d argue that his performance was the result of the perfect storm of miscasting, poor script and directing, in addition to his own lack of experience), he bumbled from one bad movie to the next.  His next big vehicle was Jumper, which not only got trashed, but where I also felt he was miscast.  This was followed by sporadic roles in mediocre to really bad movies.  His last attempt to reinvent himself as a gruff anti-hero misfires once again.

The Last Man is a story from an apocalyptic future where the environment collapses and economy implodes.  It seems to be always dark and/or raining.  I mean really dark, as if the producers didn’t have the money for slightly better ambient lighting in their movie studio.  It’s so dark that for half the movie I could not distinguish facial expressions of the actors.  Christensen plays a war veteran with a severe case of shellshock.  He hallucinates his war comrade whom he had to kill to put him out of his misery, talks to himself in a rough voice and overall gives an impression of obsessive behavior.  He goes through his motions of surviving every day, but not really being alive or improving his situation.  That is, until he meets Harvey Keitel’s character who appears to be a preacher who believes the world is about to end.  He then decides to start building a shelter.  To obtain funding, he finds a job, but when his employer’s money goes missing he is the prime suspect.  To make matters worse, a neo-Nazi group, which terrorizes his neighborhood, targets the preacher (who turns out to be a scam artist selling his survival gear) and, by association, the protagonist.

The movie has been made on a very small budget, in what appears to be a single studio.  The setting is fairly small, but the producers still managed to cram in plenty of supporting cast and several interconnected stories.  This contrasts with similarly low-budget movies (such as the recently reviewed 2036 Origin Unknown), which rely on strong performances of the main actors, in much more barebone settings.  Here, such strong performances weren’t necessary, but I feel that Christensen did a good job.  Even though he is very one-dimensional, he is gruff, he comes across as really damaged, and even his silent suffering when he doesn’t want to engage his attackers plays out beautifully.  He isn’t the handsome lead anymore; even his voice sounds broken.  Keitel, himself a very fine actor, delivers a professional performance.  Even though he lacks Christensen’s passion for the movie, he comes across as very natural and believable, showcasing several decades of additional experience which Christensen sorely lacks.  Still, Keitel seems to have reduced himself to same retirement roles already played by Rutger Hauer and Malcolm McDowell: the mysterious, but ultimately inconsequential old sage who helps the protagonist along (and who may turn into the actual narrator).

The script is a mixed bag.  The stories and flashbacks tend to flow together nicely, and the moew twists don’t defy logic.  In this, I found the writing more compelling than in 2036.  However, the final apocalypse left me disappointed, to say the least.  The expected end of the world event is a strong electrical storm, which fries everything alive.  Instead, we either don’t get it, or get its watered-down version of moderately strong winds, which still let the protagonist to reach his shelter.  The people he has to deal with seem to be far more dangerous than the storm.  I would have loved to see some destruction and possibly the protagonist emerging from his shelter as the last man on Earth, but instead got one last really dark scene.

And this is where the movie ultimately fails.  It feels very small, inconsequential.  For a world-ending event, I would expect a big bang at the end.  Instead, the apocalypse, along with the entire movie world, seem small: limited to a single block of houses, a few destroyed cars and the same characters who all appear to spend their lives in the play area in the middle of the block.  If you allow me one last comparison to 2036: that movie was minimalistic in terms of setting and actors, and yet it delivered a nuclear holocaust, albeit very illogical, to give the viewer a closure.  Here, we go out in a whimper.  Not even solid performances and decent writing was able to save this movie.  Before long, it will be forgotten.

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