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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Dark Comedy > The Last Time (2007; Drama/Dark Comedy)

The Last Time (2007/Drama/Dark Comedy)

 

Picture: B     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 of work.

 

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 twice. 

 

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


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