The Last Photograph

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Last Photograph
"Huston's performances are astounding."

In the car, there is conversation, a back and forth across the rustle of wrappers about inevitability, about the tendency of things to go wrong. It's monochrome, but not black and white. Subtleties in a discussion of two eponymous laws, Murphy's and Sod's. Murphy, you may know, was an American aerospace engineer, but who was the poor sod?

Here, variously, it is Tom Goodman, an American expatriate in London, and those around him. Here, variously, it is Danny Huston. Variously because there is more than one Tom, more than one moment, more than one before, more than one after, more than one during, more than one enduring. More than one Huston too, behind the screen as director, upon the screen as star. Belligerent, bewildered, bereaved, beguiling, in moments close and distant this is a captivating portrait of memory and loss, of grief and grieving. More than Huston too, Sarita Chouhury, Jonah Hauer-King, Stacey Martin all ably, deftly, contribute around his performance.

Tom has a bag, and in that bag, a photograph - that titular image, a picture taken Christmases ago, a man and his son at a party. We don't learn that immediately, there is a developing, an emergence of light and dark and colour giving form to memory, the alchemy of film. The spark, the instigating moment, is a theft - the bag is taken. The photograph an incidental passenger in a greater crime. The euphemism of choice is collateral damage, but even it does not mask that there is intent in harm, even if consequences are unforseen.

The film is based upon a novel; author Simon Astaire adapted it for the screen. Peter Raeburn's score and the sound department combine to add ably - there are moments of dissonant disassociation by design, deliberate piano a reminder that there is more going on that what we see. Raeburn's name might be recognisable to you from his work on Foreign John, another portrait of paternal grief, or Under The Skin, another potrait of alienation amidst mortality. There is archive footage, references to events instantly familiar, a grounding in details as small as tax discs and mobile phones in times and places. Even in moments where something might seem off it's not outrageous anachronism but compelling detail. There's a particular book, on a particular shelf, that I don't think ought to be there, but that might be the unreliability of memory or my own misidentification, and I cannot say that the uncertainty it generates does anything other than foreground the fallability of reminiscence, rather than any failing of production design.

Huston and his collaborators have crafted something that feels raw, and personal, and distant, and faded, and half a hundred lovely things between. I am sure that on occasion we reviewers manage to maintain a perfect critical distance from a work but The Last Photograph is so finely worked that I could not, cannot, will not separate my own feelings from my feelings for this film. There is a time when Tom is driving, and in those scenes I recalled every empty minute I have driven in the anticipation of grief, every sped mile along mortal ways, those hollow moments where someone is not, those distances that come once the phone has been answered, the betweens between before and after. That space is a thing astronomically dark, it emits nothing - what can be seen is only that which surrounds it, is influenced by it - those surroundings and those influences drawn by The Last Photograph.

Huston's performances are astounding. Tom is a common thread but he is variously strung, wound-up, unravelled, frayed and broken but, throughout, captivating. Through a labyrinth of grief lurks catharsis, but it is not a map that we follow, it is that thread.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2017
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The Last Photograph packshot
A man's life is thrown into turmoil when a vital photograph is stolen.

Festivals:

EIFF 2017

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