Review: Iran-Contra proves a muddled milieu for Dee Rees’ ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’

Anne Hathaway in the movie 'The Last Thing He Wanted'
Anne Hathaway in the movie “The Last Thing He Wanted.”

“The Last Thing He Wanted” is a twisty, mosaic-like thriller set in the early days of the Iran-Contra affair. Despite its cluttered narrative, the film, scripted by director Dee Rees (“Pariah,” “Mudbound”) and Marco Villalobos from Joan Didion’s 1996 novel, proves a tense, absorbing tale of an innocent woman upended by the worst kind of political duplicity.

Anne Hathaway digs into her meaty role as Elena, an intrepid, map-hopping reporter for the Atlantic Post (read: Washington Post), who’s dubiously taken off her investigation of an El Salvador massacre, one with potential U.S. ties, and reassigned to cover Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign.

Meantime, Elena’s negligent father (Willem Dafoe), a shifty guy in poor health, embroils her in a weapons smuggling scheme that resonates for Elena in a vortex of unexpected ways. She’s soon dodging danger in Florida, Costa Rica and, finally, Antigua, where she must lay low on the orders of a shadowy U.S. official (Ben Affleck, underwhelming). But is the deck too irrevocably stacked against her?

There’s some overreach and muddle here — you wouldn’t want a pop quiz on the plot — but “Last Thing” remains an intriguing, visually diverting piece, well shot by Bobby Bukowski. Rosie Perez, Toby Jones and Edi Gathegi provide strong support.

'The Last Thing He Wanted'

Rated: R, for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 14, The Landmark, West Los Angeles; available Feb. 21 on Netflix