Monday, May 02, 2011

Infidelity in Tribeca: Last Night

Most married couples argue about three things. Joanna and Michael are financially well off and childless. That only leaves one other point of contention, but it is a big one. Indeed, jealousy and betrayal may or may not scuttle the Reed’s wedded bliss in Iranian-born, Orange County-raised writer-director Massy Tadjedin’s Last Night (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York following its high-profile screenings at the recently wrapped 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

Joanna Reed is in a period of self-doubt. She cranks out vapid free-lance pieces for fashion magazines, rather than tackling her second book. In contrast, Michael Reed is a picture of confidence, assuredly moving from deal to deal at his real estate development firm. Still, everything appears perfectly fine between them, until they attend his boss’s soiree. When Ms. Reed gets a load of Sam’s new colleague, Laura, whom he evidently works quite closely with but has never mentioned, she immediately suspects something.

Playing innocent and blaming her generous portions of wine, Mr. Reed re-establishes peace before leaving on business trip that will indeed include the sultry Laura. With impeccable timing, Alex Mann, Ms. Reed’s old French flame, turns up the next morning, hoping to reconnect and possibly rekindle their romance. Over the course of the evening, both Reeds will flirt with temptation and wrestle with guilt.

Smartly scripted by Tadjedin, Night is not simply about whether each spouse will betray the other, but just what exactly constitutes betrayal. Rather than tying it all up in a neat little package, Tadjedin maintains a sense of ambiguity that makes the film far more intriguing than a simple morality play (or cinematic polemic against marriage).

Tadjedin’s intimate approach gives Night a very European air, further heightened by Peter Deming’s rich, cool cinematography (perfectly befitting the Reeds’ smart set) and editor Susan E. Morse’s vaguely Nouvelle Vague cuts. It looks and feels like a film for adults, which it is, though little is shown on-screen that would have to be cut for commercial broadcast.

While she is outwardly cool and reserved, Keira Knightley suggests a host of inner turmoil as Joanna. In perhaps Night’s most subtle and intriguing performance, Guillaume Canet projects equal intelligence and greater emotional nuance as Mann. Eva Mendes also shows surprising dimensions as Laura, the potential other woman, yet the irony of her back-story remains largely unexplored. As one might expect, Sam “3D” Worthington (from Avatar and Clash of the Titans) is the weak link of the quartet, but he is not as terrible as one might expect. Ironically, his stolid presence works rather well in the “honey, what’s wrong?” scenes.

Night was an especially appropriate selection for the Tribeca Film Festival, featuring many scenes shot on the streets of the neighborhood or at other recognizable lower Manhattan locations, like SoHo House. The legit New York ambiance certainly does not hurt. Ultimately ambivalent on the efficacy of marriage (especially in regards to the Reeds), Night is a smartly rendered relationship study (that surely could not currently be produced or released in Tadjedin’s native Iran, more’s the pity). One of the better English language narrative features at Tribeca this year, Night opens conventionally this Friday (5/6) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.