Last Night

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

24 February

The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942

On this night in 1942, with the US at war with Japan for less than three months, air raid sirens started wailing throughout Los Angeles county. A blackout was ordered. Air raid wardens were summoned. At around 3am the Artillery Brigade began firing machine guns and anti-aircraft shells at reported aircraft. Over the next hour over 1,400 shells would be fired. At 7.21am the blackout was lifted. Several buildings had been damaged; five civilians were dead – three in car accidents, two from heart attacks. No planes were downed, or even hit, as far as anyone could tell. By the next morning at a press conference, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was claiming the whole thing was a false alarm brought about by itchy trigger fingers and nerves stretched taut in expectation of a raid. In some quarters a cover-up was suspected – was there a Japanese base in Mexico? Were there Japanese submarines offshore? Was it a government-generated stunt designed to stiffen the sinews? A UFO? Or, as a report in 1983 seemed to suggest, just weather balloons?

Last Night (1998, dir: Don McKellar)

There are two Last Nights. There’s the stump-draggingly dull 2010 relationship drama starring Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes. And there’s this much more interesting apocalyptic drama.

It arrived with a flurry of “the end is nigh” dramas just as the old millennium was ready to lay down its weary head and the Y2K bug was about to launch into a hissy fit which would turn all computers to scrap metal and swipe every plane from the sky. Or so we were led to believe. In Last Night we meet a bunch of couples on the last day of the world’s existence – there is no argument, it is definitely all over. Sandra Ho is stuck with a stranger (director Don McKellar) when she’d rather be with her husband; Callum Keith Rennie is nervously meeting the high school teacher (Geneviève Bujold) he had the hots for years before; David Cronenberg is a utilities functionary staying at his desk and keeping the lights (gas, actually) on. We meet other people, and their stories too, which play out mostly in a poignant key. It’s unexpected, because this isn’t a honking Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich version of the end of the world. It’s Don McKellar’s and he’s an actor and this is his feature debut and so he does what actor-turned-directors often do – he lets the actors act. These are touching stories – only the stony-hearted won’t buckle a touch at the sight of the mother holding Christmas for her kids so as to make their last day on earth a treat.

Last Night could be accused of not being Bay/Emmerich enough, of being a touch anaemic, of there being too many people chasing too little plot. But it’s an unusual way to imagine the apocalypse, of humanity not going out with a bang but a well behaved whimper. Don McKellar is Canadian. Does that account for it?

Why Watch?

  • The fine cast includes Sarah Polley
  • It asks the big question – what would you do?
  • No choppers, no gung-ho, no wisecracks
  • A lead role for Sandra Oh

Last Night – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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