I’ve always had a soft spot for stories about private detectives solving cases that so completely loop around on themselves that there’s no possible way to figure out everything that’s going on, even with a road map and the chance to watch the film three or four times in a row. The best recent example of that is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, a movie that understandably frustrated a lot of people and took me three times watching it before I understood more or less everything going on. The new film from director Tim Kirkby (Action Point) and writer Howard Michael Gould (based on his novel), Last Looks, isn’t quite that difficult to unpack and get straight in your head, but it does have a lot of the great noir tropes: beautiful, dangerous women; creepy men around every corner; powerful people who believe they exist above the law; police officers who have no idea what’s going on; and a private dick at the center, unraveling a murder mystery or two.
Charlie Hunam plays Charlie Waldo, an ex-LAPD star detective who left the force a rat and now lives in an RV in the woods with only 100 possessions to his name (including a terrible hat). He’s paid a visit by ex-flame Lorena (Morena Baccarin) who works for Hollywood producer Wilson Sikorsky (Rupert Friend), who is trying to keep the star of one of his hit TV series out of jail for killing his wife, which just about everyone is convinced he did. More lively and engaged that he has been in many of his recent film roles, Mel Gibson plays the eccentric British actor in question, Alastair Pinch, who is frequently blindingly drunk, and isn’t even sure himself if he committed the murder or not. At first, Charlie turns down the offer, but after agreeing to meet with Alastair, he takes the job, which brings him back to the old stomping grounds that effectively ran him out of town several years earlier—a mystery added to a mystery, both of which must be solved by the end of the film.
A host of colorful characters cross paths with Charlie, providing him with varying degrees of useful information. Lucy Fry shows up as Alastair’s young daughter’s (Sophie Fatu) pre-school teacher, who immediately finds herself attracted to Charlie; the ever-reliable Clancy Brown is on hand as Big Jim Cuppy, a police detective who has no love for Charlie; Dominic Monaghan plays a shady lawyer; Robin Givens arrives as an even shadier lawyer; and even Chicago’s own David Pasquesi makes an appearance as a man of great wealth who is secretly steering a great deal of the events in the story from behind the scenes. There are gangsters who seem to operate with the same driving principles as the studio executives, and somehow they all contribute to Charlie’s ultimate showdown scene where he confronts the suspected killer and lays out his various theories on the events leading up to the murder and it’s subsequent coverup. Not surprisingly, bringing Charlie into the fold was part of the plan because they thought he’d only be a distraction who would never actually solve the case.
Last Looks is funny while still taking it’s mystery seriously, and actors are clearly having a blast playing fast and loose with the personalities of their characters, especially Gibson, who plays a southern judge on the TV show who looks and sounds like a confederate general and spins folksy wisdom right before rendering justice. While Hunnam is sometimes cocky, sometimes down on himself, he’s still rattled by the way he was treated by this city before he left it. As far as whodunnits or LA stories, Last Looks isn’t an all-timer, but the writing is better than you might expect and director Kirkby manages to hold things together and wrap up all of the loose ends respectably. If you’re looking for something small and punchy between the blockbusters, this is a solid choice.
The film is now playing in select theaters and available via VOD.
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