Review by Sean Boelman
There is no denying that Dylan Thomas is one of the most brilliant poets of all time, and so a film about the final days of his life sounds like an interesting prospect. And while Last Call is a very unique movie, in trying to make something more ambitious and poetic, filmmaker Steven Bernstein loses track of what made his subject so notable in the first place.
The film tells a fictional version of the days preceding the death of Dylan Thomas, as he drinks heavily and recalls various events in his life. For better or worse, it is made pretty clear early on that this is not a literal biopic, but an interpretation of his life through the lens of his words and the body of work that he created.
One of the most obvious shortcomings of the movie is that it lacks an overall feeling of consistency. At times, it seems as if Bernstein is trying to present a more subjective view of Thomas’s life, and then there will be a scene that doesn’t involve Thomas at all. Other portions struggle to find a balance between expressive and grounded.
The narrative structure which Bernstein chooses to go with for the film is also messy and uneven. As is the case with many movies that take place in the final days of someone’s life, the story is reliant on flashbacks to paint a more comprehensive portrait of its subject, and because of this, the framing device ends up feeling like a gimmick.
It too often feels like Bernstein is trying to be profound with his film. Much of the power of Thomas’s work comes from the fact that his writing is very natural and meaningful. Bernstein’s script, on the other hand, tries to force meaning into conversations made up of dialogue that is wooden and overly literary.
That isn’t to say that the movie is entirely unsuccessful — there are more than a few scenes that work quite well. But for every moment that asks an intriguing question about some of the themes that Thomas explored in his work, there is one that is disappointingly shallow or even empty.
Still, Bernstein does some interesting things with the film. The black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and creates an atmosphere that immediately brings to mind beatnik culture. Additionally, the performances are all pretty strong. Rhys Ifans is good (albeit stagey) as the drained poet, and John Malkovich and Tony Hale are both memorable in their supporting parts.
Much of what makes Last Call so frustrating is the fact that its script is so indecisive. There are some great moments, but most of the movie can’t decide what it wants to be, and as a result, it begins to ramble.
Last Call opens in theaters on November 25.