THE STORY – The last days of the poet Dylan Thomas as he dreams and drinks.
THE CAST – Rhys Ifans, John Malkovich, Rodrigo Santoro, Romola Garai & Tony Hale
THE TEAM – Steven Bernstein (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas died at the age of thirty-nine years old in New York City in 1953. Steven Bernstein’s new film “Last Call” imagines his last day as he drinks and rambles to anyone who will listen to him. Both written and directed by Bernstein, the unfinished film was screened in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival but is only now coming available to general audiences. While Rhys Ifans gives a very good performance as Thomas, the film is not as great of a portrait of the writer as it could’ve been.
“Last Call” opens in November 1953 in New York City as Thomas starts his day at the White Horse Tavern by drinking a raw egg and washing it down with scotch. It’s the first of many drinks that day, as his musings become more and more scrambled the drunker he becomes. He’s sort of your typical pretentious writer, speaking a lot without saying much and giving each shot a lofty name like “Faith” or “Innocence.” Meanwhile, bartender Carlos watches on and Rodrigo Santoro’s performance is one of the standouts of the cast.
The film is admirable in its dedication to not being a cookie-cutter biopic of the poet, but it isn’t as deep as it seems to think it is. Thomas continually smokes and drinks and either forgets or chooses not to send home money to care for his children. The film certainly doesn’t hold back on making its characters unlikable. Thomas’s supposed appeal to those around him doesn’t translate to the viewer, nor does the film give a great idea of who he was as a writer and poet. This ultimately left me wondering why the audience should care.
The narrative is scattered as it blends the present day with flashbacks and with people speaking about Thomas after his death. The most effective of these is Romola Garai as his neglected wife, Caitlin Thomas. We see her not only in flashbacks of them together, but also as she writes emotional, but sharp letters pleading for him to send money home to them. She later appears in the bar as a figment of his imagination and while it’s not a great role, Garai does as well with it as possible.
Less engaging is a detour from the plot about a young fan of Thomas’s who is a student at Vasser College and has booked him to speak there. Penelope (Zosia Mamet) later appears at the bar; it’s a very on-the-nose reminder to not meet your idols. Even characters other than Thomas speak in pretentious monologues throughout the film, making it seem very ungrounded in any sort of reality.
The film, at least, is visually nice. The film is shot in black and white with color only used in flashback scenes. Before venturing into directing, Bernstein had a long career as a cinematographer for films like “Like Water for Chocolate.” This experience certainly seems to have carried over into his direction.
“Last Call” is one of many examples that show that taking risks is not enough to make a biopic film work. With its scattered narrative, lack of solid information about Thomas’s life, and random dance sequence, the film is certainly not your average piece about the life of a writer. However, it is a tedious slog of a film with bad pacing and a narrative that fails to come together.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Ifans gives a strong leading performance and the black and white cinematography is well done.
THE BAD – The film is slow and pretentious, with a scattered narrative that doesn’t pay off.
THE OSCARS – None