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Non-Review Review: The Last Right

The Last Right is perhaps a little too driven by cliché and a little too heavy handed in its emotional beats, but it’s genuinely charming and benefits from a clever concept and an endearing cast.

To be fair, The Last Right runs into its problems in its first and third acts, in setting up and resolving its central dynamics. These problems flow largely from the fact that so many of details around the edge of the central premise of the film feel lifted from a collection of stock eighties American dramedies. Certain key elements of The Last Right feel like they came packed in an IKEA box ready for assembly, and so the movie’s introduction of and conclusion for those elements tends to feel rather rote.

Carry on…

However, The Last Right really kicks into gear once it has done that initial set-up, allowing its characters room to breath and interact with one another within the relatively safe but also free-form template of the classic road movies. Road movies largely live or die based on the chemistry of the cast and strength of the humour, and The Last Right works well on both counts. There’s a relaxed ease to The Last Right, a willingness to trust the actors and the characters to carry the bulk of the film.

The result of a trip with a few bumps along the way, particularly at either end of the journey. However, for most of the adventure, The Last Right is a pretty enjoyable ride.

Death drive.

The Last Right has a pretty compelling hook. On a flight home to Ireland, Daniel Murphy finds himself sitting beside a lonely old man who just happens to share his name. Because the man has no next of kin, he names Daniel on his immigration forms. This causes problems when the man dies, and Daniel is left with custody of the body. The problem compounds when Daniel is convinced to ferry the man’s board across the length of the island of Ireland, in a desperate attempt to get the body to the funeral of the man’s brother so that the two might be buried together.

Of course, this relies on a number of contrivances. Some of those contrivances are elegant, such as the strange chain of custody of the corpse and the social pressures that conspire to force Dan to embark on this journey. Some of these contrivances are inelegant, such as the rigid refusal to postpone the funeral to allow for the body to make the journey through official channels. However, it doesn’t matter. The premise is distinctive enough, and fun enough, that it is easy to get on board with it.

The biggest problems with The Last Right arise from the surrounding details. The Last Right obvious needs more than just a strong central idea. It needs to build outwards from that idea to develop characters and dynamics between those characters. The issue with a lot of these surrounding elements is that they tend to feel like familiar clichés, ideas recycled from countless other movies in order to add some detail or texture to the background of this movie.

Of course Daniel Murphy is a hotshot New York lawyer on the verge of a big promotion when his mother passes and he is summoned back to Cork. Of course Daniel has a younger brother named Louis who is on the autism spectrum. Of course Dan is selfishly planning to upend Louie’s life and take his brother back to New York with him without any discussion. Of course Daniel has a big assignment that just happens to be due on Christmas Eve, providing a natural deadline to his international adventure.

Danny Boy.

Of course events conspire to bring Dan and Louie into contact with a free spirit named Mary, who has her own reasons for wanting to make the same journey with them at the same time. There are other developments which might be classified as spoilers, so it is best not to go into too much detail, but The Last Right sets up a variety of concurrent plot threads and then pays pretty much most of them off exactly as the audience expects.

That’s a lot of set-up. More than that, it’s a lot of very familiar set-up. The Last Right even cheekily acknowledges as much. “You both are a bit like Rain Man,” Mary reflects at one point, citing an obvious influence on the basic set-up. The Last Right is at its weakest when it’s leaning heavily on these very conventional elements, usually with the accompaniment of an overwhelming musical score that exists primarily to clarify emotional beats from one scene to the next. The Last Right struggles both in setting up and paying off these familiar elements.

However, this means that the film is at its best when it can simply let itself be. The second act is a delight, an engaging and loose road trip adventure in which three very different people encounter a variety of obstacles on an unlikely shared experience together. The Last Right is commendable in its willingness to let Dan be incredibly unlikable without ever losing empathy for him, and for allowing Mary to be a genuine mess while still providing a moral anchor for the audience.

Even beyond that, there’s an appealing warmth and gentleness to the film, even while frank and candid about its characters and the situations in which they find themselves. These intimate moments of vulnerability create a charming contrast with broader moments like a botched chipper robbery or a thwarted citizen’s arrest. The Last Right manages tone remarkably well, making sure to keep its characters real and grounded even as the situation around them keeps escalating.

Chipping in.

The Last Right marks a strong theatrical debut from writer and director Aoife Crehan. It’s surprisingly assured for a first feature film; it even opens with some nice location work in New York that provides a welcome sense of international flavour. Niamh Algar is the cast standout. She’s great as Mary. Algar was a ScreenDaily 2018 “Star of Tomorrow”, but she’s been doing great work in Ireland and abroad for a while now; Without Name remains one of the best Irish horror films of the decade.

The Last Right is occasionally a little too clumsy and awkward in its storytelling, particularly in its opening and closing stretches. However, when it finds its groove, it is a charmingly humanist road trip adventure with a distinctly and endearingly absurdist bent.

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