Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer This End Up

By Chris Herrington

JULY 10, 2000: 

Last Night directed by Don McKellar (Universal)

The directorial debut of veteran Canadian actor Don McKellar (who can be seen in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ and Atom Egoyan's Exotica and The Adjuster), Last Night is probably the most modest, romantic disaster flick you'll ever see. Released in the U.S. last year -- but never screened in Memphis -- the film depicts the final six hours of the world though the actions of a handful of inter-connected people in Toronto.

Last Night reflects McKellar's background with those two contemporary Canadian masters in both temperament and casting: Cronenberg himself appears as a gas station employee whose duty is to call customers and reassure them that the gas will be flowing on through to the end; Egoyan's wife, Arsinee Khanjian, appears as a frightened bus passenger; and McKellar's fellow Cronenberg and Egoyan player, Sarah Polley, shows up briefly as his sister.

The tone of Last Night has a lot more in common with Egoyan, Cronenberg, and Jean-Luc Godard than it does with the spate of frenzied millennial movies over the last few years -- films as diverse as Strange Days and Armageddon. American films envision an end that is chaotic, filled with panic and violence, but this Canadian alternative proffers a sort of quiet acceptance.

We are never told exactly what form the cataclysmic event will take in Last Night, only that the world will end at precisely midnight. We gradually learn that people have had this information for months and have had time to process and accept it. We also learn that, here at the end, nighttime has given way to perpetual light.

The film imagines the different ways people -- equipped with sufficient foresight -- might decide to meet the end. One family gathers for Christmas dinner, since Christmas will never come. Some canoe out to the middle of a lake; some have sex; many gather in the streets for a celebration that does echo the climax of Strange Days.

Those familiar with Egoyan films, such as Family Viewing, Exotica, and The Sweet Hereafter, will recognize a style that is all sardonic detachment on the surface, but which yields to moments of overwhelming emotion. Knowingly absurd details accumulate: a "top 500 songs of all-time" radio countdown, a sale sign in a looted store that reads "Everything Must Go," recurring references to Canadian rockers Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

But the heart of the film is the accidental relationship between Patrick (McKellar), who chooses to spend his last hours in solitude, and Sandra (Sandra Oh), a woman racing to find her husband, with whom she's planned to commit suicide just before the end. Stranded together with the city coming apart around them, their plans disintegrate in the final, desperate moments, and this is when Last Night blossoms.

McKellar's bare bones film isn't much to look at -- until the end. Faced with the daunting task of capturing the end of the world on a shoestring budget, McKellar rises to the occasion with a bravo final shot that is simple, moving, and unexpected.

Face directed by Antonia Bird (New Line)

The British sleeper Face is an underworld genre flick that rises above its B-movie station for two reasons -- its delicately rendered political undertones and a soulful performance from Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, The Full Monty).

Carlyle plays Ray, a former (leftist) political activist whose hatred of authority has devolved into a career in armed robbery. He's a half Robin Hood -- Ray and his buddies rob from the rich, but witnessing former friends engaged in demonstrations spurs flashbacks of Ray's own activist past and activates his guilt at the path his life has taken.

The central plot of the film is familiar: Ray's gang pulls off a daring heist, only to have greed and suspicion put their plan in jeopardy. Soon the loot is missing, the plot gets typically twisty, and the bodies begin piling up, leading to a denouement that is predictably unpredictable, but effective nonetheless.

But Face makes up for its sense of seen-it-all-before in the details -- the way it juxtaposes the amoral excitement of grippingly filmed crime scenes with a lived-in feel for its characters' private emotional struggles. The result is a match of tough and tender that evokes the work of Japanese hard-boiled hero Takeshi Kitano (Fireworks, Sonatine).

This 1997 film never garnered U.S. distribution -- its exposure relegated to the festival circuit and, finally, this video release -- despite the fact that it's superior to most of the (few) foreign and "independent" films that have played in Memphis this year.

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