Last Night
Director: Don McKellar. Cast: Don McKellar, Sandra Oh, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, David Cronenberg, Geneviève Bujold. Screenplay: Don McKellar.

Canadian multi-tasker Don McKellar, familiar as an actor in films such as Exotica and as the co-author of the scripts for The Red Violin and Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, makes his directing debut with this contribution to the "2000 As Seen By..." series, a collection of films in which auteurs from around the world assembled their own short-ish visions of events leading up to or centered around the dawning of the new millennium. Unfortunately, while I knew in my mind that Last Night clocks in at well under two hours, the film has a kind of airless, artificial quality that made it seem much longer than it actually was. The screenplay centers around a half-dozen or so wandering souls in Toronto on what everyone knows (through what means we never learn) are the final hours of earth's existence. The challenge all these quiet, nervous people have put to themselves is to devise the exact, most character-appropriate way to finish off their time on this earth.

Of course, while the activities we observe—from a tense family dinner to a rave alongside a highway to a frenetic series of sexual experiments—are, for the characters, the logical expressions of what seemed important or emblematic of their lives, we as viewers don't know anything about these men and women except how they are spending their penultimate hours. McKellar has smartly withstood the urge to construct too-elaborate story devices; none of the characters have left to climb an Alp, or launch into space, or sort out the federal budget. These are humble, unremarkable people whose wishes are pitched at the level of, for example, splitting a bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream with a partner. Then again, not a great deal happens in Last Night, and the impulse to avoid sensationalism produces the equally undesirable circumstance of characters about whom nothing is especially unfamiliar or particularly involving.

McKellar himself appears in what amounts to the central role, and a generous sample of Canada's best younger actors—including Sarah Polley, Sandra Oh, and Callum Keith Rennie—animate as best they can the relatively few scenes that each actor is allotted. Oh and Rennie show the most spunk in their roles as, respectively, the wine-and-ice-cream enthusiast and the Lothario of the Last Hours, and Canadian star emeritus Geneviève Bujold scores in a brief, wry turn as one of Rennie's least probable bedfellows. In other words, Last Night isn't hard to watch, particularly when it is not trying hard to exceed its own grasp. By contrast, a final shot that is clearly intended to pack an emotional wallop failed utterly to change my impression of what had preceded it; I didn't even believe the moment for what it was. Hal Hartley's The Book of Life, also prepared as part of the "2000 As Seen By..." roster, was emphatically a triumph of style over substance, but I'd still take its electronic, pixillated flourishes over the lukewarm dramatics of Last Night. We are, after all, talking about how to spend your final moments on Earth—would some outsize characters and messier visual dares really have been unwelcome? C

Cannes Film Festival: Prix de la Jeunesse (Foreign Film)
Genie Awards (Canadian Oscars): Best Actress (Oh); Best Supporting Actor (Rennie); Claude Jutra Award (McKellar)

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