By Megan Bianco
Movies getting shelved and unreleased for long periods of time are fascinating since there usually isn’t an officially reported reason for the indefinite delay. It’s mostly assumed the studio doesn’t have much faith in the film’s potential.
Biopics which aren’t foolproof with critics and audiences are also perplexing because you would think it would be hard to mess up such a traditional screen formula. Fortunately, in the case of Steven Bernstein’s Last Call, I can say that this new biopic is generally a good feature, although cursed with an unfortunate production history.
Shot in both color and B&W, Last Call portrays the final days of legendary Welsh romantic poet Dylan Thomas (played by Rhys Ifans) as he is tortured by both his craft and alcoholism in Greenwich Village in 1953. Throughout the film we see Dylan leave his wife Caitlin (Romola Garai) and their children in Wales to tour his poems and other works on American college campuses and arts centers.
Dylan’s fellow writer and friend John Brinnin (Tony Hale) is constantly reminding the poet to edit a book Brinnin is writing. On top of this, Dylan’s New York doctor, Dr. Felton (John Malkovich), is regularly on his case, trying to convince him his drinking is going to kill him, and a young co-ed named Penny (Zosia Mamet) has become too attached to the poet.
There’s a lot to appreciate with Last Call, formerly titled Dominion (an obvious reference to one of Thomas’ most famous poems), which is how quite a few sources online still refer to the film. The entire cast is exceptionally memorable and impressive, especially Ifans as the lead and Rodrigo Santoro as the bartender who comes off like a devil on his shoulder.
I wouldn’t say the period character piece is style over substance, but the quality of the movie does depend most on the performances and Bernstein’s artistic direction. The cinematographer-turned-director’s choice to have the Wales sequences be in color while the New York City scenes are in B&W is clever, and the fantasy elements and non-linear structure between Dylan’s home life, poetry tours and car visits is fitting.
Controversy plagued the modestly budgeted film when it reportedly ran out of money near the end of shooting in 2015. Later it was alleged that crew members were not paid, which caused the film to miss out on the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. It’s too bad about the backstory of the making of Last Call, and I only hope everything that occurred behind the scenes has been resolved by now, because this is one of the most unique historical dramas to come out recently.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.