The Last Man is a film built around the presence of Hayden Christensen. As most anyone in 2019 knows, this is a monumentally bad idea.
There was a moment in time when it seemed like Hayden Christensen was set to become a movie star. Appearing in Star Wars movies can do that for a person. However, much like his Skywalker predecessor Mark Hamill, Christensen’s acting career never really took off into stardom. He’s still working of course, but even in noteworthy performances—as fabulist Stephen Glass in Shattered Glass for example—he’s never really stepped out from behind the shadow cast by the world’s largest movie franchise. And unlike Hamill, his performances in those Star Wars movies do not make Christensen a warmly remembered figure. People love the heroic Luke; they don’t much care for whining Anakin.
That’s the unfortunate starting point for writer-director Rodrigo H. Vila’s The Last Man, a film built around the presence of Christensen. As most anyone in 2019 knows, this is a monumentally bad idea. Still, in poor Christensen’s defense, the final product here is not really his fault. Sure, his stiff line readings, confused cadence and generally dull performance certainly don’t help the situation—but Vila does more than enough on his own to shred whatever central idea this film was supposed to have.
Set after the events of the so-called “Black Month,” The Last Man centers on Kurt (Christensen), a veteran of some unnamed war, now living in a post-collapse society in some unnamed urban centre. He’s struggling with PTSD and alcoholism and is troubled by visions of his fast-talking friend Johnny (Justin Kelly), who he mercy-killed on the battlefield. As explained through flat voiceover, Kurt is also converting his home into a bunker to survive a supposedly imminent storm that will make the world even more inhospitable. He’s warned of this by the messianic figure Noe (Harvey Keitel; yes, really), who may or may not be who he claims to be—not that any of this matters. As written by Vila, with an assist from Gustavo Lencina, the film’s script goes in far too many directions. And the filmmaking technique does little to make the story any clearer.
Despite The Last Man’s ominous aerial shots of rundown apartment complexes, the entirety of the film’s world is contained within a couple grim little sets. The people therein spend their days listening to Noe preach and dodging attacks by roving bands of thugs. It’s easy enough to sympathize with the budget constraints Vila was likely working with here—not everyone can work with Ridley Scott Blade Runner money to make their dystopia, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the film’s runtime is split between a handful of dreary locations, of which none are much to look at; and when coupled with the film’s nonsensical dialogue its characters are forced to lob at each other, it’s not much to listen to either. The only real constant—the lighthouse in the storm, as it were—is Christensen’s mystified expression throughout.
One could suppose this would be the entire film, but The Last Man has other (bad) ideas. Because Kurt needs something to do, the film pivots abruptly to an office setting in which we meet the film’s antagonist and love interest. The former, Kurt’s new boss Antonio (Marco Leonardi), spends the entire film behind a desk making mysterious pronouncements about his work. Antonio’s right hand man Gomez (Rafael Spregelburd), meanwhile, exists solely to threaten Kurt. It’s Gomez who warns Kurt to stay away from Jessica (Liz Solari), the boss’ daughter; and it’s Gomez again who helpfully warns of an off-limits area in the office, only to reveal later that money is now missing from said area. This puts Kurt in danger—beyond the coming end of days and mental anguish the ghost of Johnny (and other spirits) have come to represent. Fortunately, he has Jessica for help.
Now, there’s no positive way to put this, so here goes: Solari is a spectacularly bad actress. Her performance in The Last Man never hits any kind of tone that makes sense to what else is happening on the screen. With her stumbling in and out of scenes, an already adrift Christensen is left with even less to work with. His Kurt is forced through a kangaroo court, survives a jail cell brawl and even finds himself in a three-way standoff with his former boss. Don’t worry, there’s still time for him and Jessica to partake in a gratuitous sex scene as hastily thrown together as the rest of the plot. Vila is sure this is building towards something significant, but read the above again and ask yourself: does it sound like these twists and turns are leading to anything worthwhile?
Let’s leave The Last Man for half a paragraph to reflect on a much greater piece of apocalyptic art. In the seminal graphic novel Watchmen, the character Ozymandias is seen betting on the culture’s obsession with doom, and then on its subsequent renewed belief in hope. He’s manipulating these outcomes, of course, but his methods speak to our current preoccupation with the end. We’ve ostensibly never been closer to Armageddon, and never had more tools with which to bring it about. It’s a subject worth obsessing over, but also what makes The Last Man so laughable. It wants to tap into those same fears, except Vila’s scattershot approach makes the apocalypse look instead like a viable alternative. We’re not buying it for the same reason no one buys Hayden Christensen movies anymore. “Surviving is something I’ve always been pretty good at,” he drones on in the film’s opening voiceover. “But I don’t know how much more of this I want to take.” To which all I can add is: Hayden, you’re telling me.