USA

Review: Iran-Contra proves a muddled milieu for Dee Rees' '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