Last Time (2007/Drama/Dark Comedy)
Sound: B- Extras:
C+ Film: B+
Generically titled, but wildly entertaining, The Last Time is a sharp,
vibrant black comedy about two disparate salesmen, one a natural
(Michael Keaton) and the other (Brendan Fraser) clearly in the wrong line
Filmed in New Orleans and New York City during the late summer of
2005 (the film crew was forced to evacuate New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina
struck), The Last Time
is one of those movies that sadly fell through the cracks.
Not pretentious enough for the art-house crowd and not stupid enough
for viewers of today's dumbed-down mainstream fare, it opened on just one
screen in both New York and Los Angeles on May 18, 2007 for a token theatrical
run before its July 10 DVD release. The inability of this film
to gain a studio's backing or garner sufficient critical support is a
disconcerting reminder of how immature the tastes of audiences and even many
"critics" have become; it's better than 98 percent of the titles that
do manage to get wide releases nowadays.
In a role that's tailor-made for his talents, the underrated,
under-used Keaton stars as an arrogant, embittered NYC-area salesman named Ted
Riker, the No. 1 salesman at his company -- we're never
specifically told in which industry the film takes place or what exactly
Ted sells, but that's really not important. Whatever the product may be,
it's simply representative of most industries within the capitalistic
system where the pressure is always on to sell sell sell.
Despite his success, Ted is one angry man, whose cynicism
reflects a loss of faith in human nature. In an office run by
the nervous John (Daniel Stern), the ornery, insulting Ted will tell
off anybody in an instant. He's hated by all, but tolerated because
of the money his efforts bring into the company.
In sales, you're only as good as your last quarter, and the
film opens at the start of an especially important quarter when
the company's sales are lagging and the stress is mounting.
Everything is going smoothly for Ted until a younger salesman
named Jaime (Fraser) is hired. Having just relocated from small-town
Ohio, where he claims to have been the No. 1 salesman, on a
personal level, Jaime is as cheerful and positive as Ted
is bitter and negative. And on a professional level, Jaime
is as awkward and bumbling as Ted is slick. So when Ted is
assigned to show Jaime the ropes, the two go together like oil and
water with Jaime continually shocked by Ted's highly cynical outlook.
The core to Jaime's happiness is his beautiful, blonde
fiancée, Belisa (Amber Valletta). But from the moment Ted and Belisa
are introduced, there's an obvious mutual attraction. And the more
Jaime struggles to make his first sale in his new job, the stronger the
attraction between Ted and Belisa becomes; before long, they're having a torrid
affair behind Jaime's back.
It's from this affair that we see there's a sensitive human being
behind Ted's snarling facade. Turns out he was an English literature
professor at Northwestern University, who walked away from teaching when the
woman he loved walked out. That was three years ago, and when Ted
decided to try his hand at being a salesman, a job he's successful at for
reasons even he can't fully explain -- unlike the hapless Jaime,
Ted has that crucial inner confidence a salesman needs to inspire
confidence in potential buyers.
Ted, however, has been a broken man ever since the love of
his life split, and his relationship with Belisa demonstrates that deep
down he's just a lonely guy desperate for the love of a woman.
The affair also shows that Ted has more of a conscience than a
sales ace like himself would want to admit. The guilt
of betraying the admiring, pathetic Jaime causes Ted to
uncharacteristically let his guard down in order
to help a struggling colleague.
As played by Keaton, Ted is a fascinatingly complex character who
realistically represents countless men left sour by love
lost. It's a rare role that takes full advantage of Keaton's dramatic
talents as well as his nervous energy, and the result is one of the
best performances of his career. And Fraser, who runs the gamut
from naïve enthusiasm to the depths of despair to something totally unexpected,
has never been better on screen.
In addition the two dynamite leads, former model Valletta
more than holds her own as the woman who comes between them, and
the film sports a solid supporting cast that includes Neal McDonough,
William Ragsdale and Michael Hagerty as Ted's office rivals, and Michael Lerner
as a corporate shark from a competing company.
The Last Time is an engrossing gem that
skillfully walks a fine line between black comedy and intense
drama. It's also an interesting film in how the strong performances
foreshadow certain aspects of the characters; if you enjoy it as much
as I did, it's definitely the type of movie you'll want to watch
This is the first feature by writer-director Michael Caleo,
and it's one of the most promising debuts I've seen in a while; a smart, often
colorfully profane film that makes a fine companion piece to the excellent
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).
The fact that a film as entertaining and thoughtful as The Last Time couldn't secure a
wide release in theaters speaks ill of both contemporary Hollywood and the
taste of today's moviegoers. It's not the easiest movie to categorize,
but that's certainly a good thing.
Sony's DVD of The Last
Time presents the film with the option of viewing it in 2.35:1
anamorphic widescreen or 1.33:1 full screen. The picture quality is
top notch in the widescreen format and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is
above average. The only special
feature included is nine deleted and/or extended scenes, all of
which are interesting and easily could have remained in the film.
Disappointingly, there's no audio commentary or cast & crew
interviews. And inexcusably, there's no theatrical trailer for The Last Time while trailers
are present for three other Sony films.
All fans of Keaton and Fraser and mainstream filmmaking with a
brain should make it a point to see The
Last Time. It's one of the year's best.
- Chuck O'Leary