Jeff Nathanson’s underrated directorial debut pokes fun at the Hollywood film industry and celebrity through a sparkling script and sprightly performances.
Like the alluring smell from a passing restaurant as you walk by, The Last Shot kicks off with the indication of “and now for something completely different” – or at least “different” when applied to the commercial Hollywood machine. From the opening moments – the inventive credit titles and the soundtrack pastiche of Twilight Zone weirdness and Indiana Jones adventurism, there’s a distinct hint of left-field quirk. But it’s only after you see Alec Baldwin asking for his finger to be cut off, and spying FBI agents listening-in, readying ice, that the “bit different” securely sets in. For The Last Shot isn’t so much a film about a true life FBI sting operation as it is an examination of Hollywood’s powerful allure. Its quirks come out of the genuinely creepy aspirations of those that are desperate to either break into Hollywood, stay successful, or just have anything, even at the most trivial level, to do with the industry. Similar to post-modern horror’s self-reflexivity, The Last Shot parodies the very industry that created it with surprisingly rewarding results.
Alec Baldwin plays hotshot F.B.I agent Joe Devine, who in a moment of brilliance, concocts the idea of a fake film production to trap unscrupulous mobsters. Enter Matthew Broderick’s desperate, wannabe director Steven Schats, whose being trying to sell his script of cancer-ridden redemption for years. When Devine picks-up on Schats’ desperation to get that one chance to break into the industry, he hires him to direct his personal love – the script he’s been cherishing for a long time.
There’s something undeniably intoxicating about Jeff Nathanson’s The Last Shot, because while the acting is certainly top-notch (the actors clearly having fun with the script and their characters), and the film is consistently funny, Nathanson draws on an obfuscating humour that parodies the freakish behaviour of its offbeat Hollywood wannabes. There’s a wonderful little scene before Devine meets Schats where he’s trying to learn the lingo and act more like an experienced Hollywood producer, where he queries Joan Cusack (in an uncredited cameo) on where to find a script. She replies, “This is Hollywood. Just go outside and ask anyone you see for a script – a gardener, a cripple, a child molester.” The film seems to celebrate a fascination with Hollywood while criticising those that aspire to be a part of it, not least when Devine misconstrues Schats’ question about his wife, culminating in the implication of a relationship between prostitution and the Hollywood machine.
The theme of trapped and kennelled dogs which runs throughout the film could be seen as a metaphor for the animalistic aspirations of those that are trapped by their fanciful whimsy, not just those trying to break in but those that are already there. Devine’s cover of talking about his dead dog like he would of an ex-wife is certainly funny (it’s great when he tells Schats that his wife was the hair stylist on Jaws and he met her on the set. Schats says, “That is so ironic. She worked on Jaws, and then she drowns in a Jacuzzi”), but it just goes to magnify the inherent sheen of fakery that prevails within the American film industry, much like the fake film production they are producing.
The Last Shot prospers from Nathanson’s assured direction as he wallows in the sadistic edge of his terrifically scripted dialogue whilst positioning us as lapdog onlookers peeking in. An element of pretentiousness can become grating but only furthers the self-acknowledgement of the narrative – the external parody, ironically, an internal one as well. Baldwin and Broderick are great in their roles, especially Baldwin who is as funny here as he was in Burton’s Beetlejuice and Mamet’s State and Main (a precursor to his brilliant role in Tina Fey’s TV comedy 30 Rock). It’s also nice to see other actors sending themselves up with Calista Flockhart’s stroppy, struggling actress and Toni Collette’s ego-ridden starlet – her first words when an F.B.I helicopter disrupts the set: “Oh my god, it’s the fucking paparazzi! You people have got to learn to leave me alone! I’m just a normal person.” It’s just a shame that the talents of Ray Liotta are wasted and the film loses its way towards the end.
Jeff Nathanson’s directorial debut has much to savour since its satirical commentary certainly holds one’s interest, but the fact it is at times exceptionally funny, makes it one of those films you can’t fail to re-watch.
Written by: Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Toni Collette, Tim Blake Nelson, Calista Flockhart, Ray Liotta, Buck Henry, Tony Shalhoub, Ian Gomez
Released: 2004 / Genre: Comedy/Drama / Country: USA / IMDB