Will they or won't they? That question drives so many different plays, TV shows, novels, and movies precisely because it holds such comedic, dramatic, and erotic potential. Writer/director Massy Tadjedin doubles down on the concept with Last Night, a tale of a young husband and wife who are each tempted to cheat on the same night.
Freelance writer Joanna (Keira Knightley) and her businessman husband, Michael (Sam Worthington), share a smart Manhattan apartment, but their happy existence is threatened when Michael goes off on a business trip with Laura (Eva Mendes), a sexy co-worker whom Joanna knows he's attracted to. Meanwhile, Joanna bumps into old flame Alex (Guillaume Canet), a novelist, who talks her into going out to dinner with him and one of his publishers (Griffin Dunne). When the couple reunites the next morning, each of them has to decide how honest to be about their suspicions and their guilt.
The screenplay and the actors earn points for giving Last Night a genuine intimacy; Knightley and Worthington have an easy chemistry together -- you have no problem believing they've known each other for years, and that they do love each other. But they spend most of the film apart, with Tadjedin jumping back and forth between the two, and eventually the film teeters off-balance because Joanna's story is far more engaging than Michael's. As sexy as Eva Mendes is, her character's flirtation with Michael never escapes being a total convention you've seen hundreds of time before. For all of their soul-baring, the only question driving their every interaction is if they will get it on.
Thankfully, Joanna and Alex's relationship is complicated and engaging. They're not just trying to figure out if they're going to sleep together again, they're trying to figure out exactly what they mean to each other. Dunne, an actor who always brings something appealingly edgy to his parts, plays the publisher like a cross between a fun-loving father figure and a tenacious gossip reporter; he's having a great time prodding the two of them into being honest with him and each other.
The movie ends on a purposefully ambiguous note meant to get couples talking as they leave the theater, yet it also plays like the director simply ran out of time. There's more story here, and the instinct to deny us some closure, though understandable, is a failure of nerve. Had Last Night focused on just Joanna, it would have had the power and punch of a short story; as it stands now, it's a flawed but appealing directorial debut.