How Netflix is selling a movie that mixes political and family drama.
The Last Thing He Wanted, coming to Netflix Friday, is based on the Joan Didion novel of the same name. Directed by Dee Rees, the movie stars Anne Hathaway as Elena McMahon, a journalist who goes off-script when she gets involved in the government-sanctioned gun-running activities of her estranged father Richard (Willem Dafoe).
That puts her on the radar of Treat Morrison (Ben Affleck), a government agent involved in those activities. Elena must navigate the turmoil of mid-80s Central American politics to have any chance of making it out alive, all while the dangers around her increase the deeper she gets into a world her father long wanted her to stay away from.
Netflix’s campaign for the movie hasn’t reached the level of pushes for its high-profile releases at the end of 2019 but still sells an entertaining feature from a talented filmmaker with a high-profile cast.
All the main characters, including local aide Alma (Rosie Perez), are shown on the movie’s one poster (by marketing agency Mocean). McMahon, her father, Morrison and Alma are placed around the poster, all looking off into the vague middle distance as they clearly are pondering serious matters. The colors and way the white stripes are arranged give the design the feeling of a business lounge at an airport-adjacent hotel, but it’s close enough to “serious geopolitical drama” to convey that basic message.
The first trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube) was released by Netflix at the end of January. It opens with McMahon and other journalists on the run as soldiers in a South American country break into their office and seize their operations. Her reputation precedes her in U.S. government circles, but when an investigation into arms sales reveals the involvement of her estranged father things get complicated. Undeterred, she embarks on a mission to find out what he’s gotten himself in to, at which point she crosses paths with Morrison, sent there to put an end to the operation. It’s a tight thriller being sold here, one with lots of tense situations and dramatic expressions on the faces of the main characters.
Online and Social
There not being a stand-alone website for the movie isn’t surprising given Netflix rarely creates such sites for all but a few select titles. What is unusual is that it didn’t even give the movie any great volume of promotion on brand social channels, focusing instead on recent romantic comedies and continuing to highlight its association with other high profile filmmakers.
Advertising and Promotions
The first real news about the movie was big as it was announced in 2018 that Netflix would finance and distribute it, obviously loving is previous experience with Rees. That preceded the film’s screening at the Sundance Film Festival last month.
Media and Press
Rees shared her process during Sundance, talking about how she worked to highlight what she felt was a key element of the source book, the kinds of influences she pulled from for the story and more. The cast also talked about working with Rees and getting in the heads of the characters they were playing.
An interview with Rees had the writer/director talk about working with Netflix again on this project as well as how it represents the next step in the progression her career has been on for years.
This movie barely got an off-hand mention in a profile of Affleck that instead focused on the other projects he has in the works.
As I mentioned in the opening, it’s clear Netflix hasn’t put the same kind of muscle behind this campaign it did for The Irishman and other releases at the end of last year. It’s not even as robust a push as it game the To All The Boys… sequel that came out last week. It’s an indicator that even Netflix, that great disruptor of the exhibition industry and champion of the mid-tier “I mean it’s alright” drama knows where to invest resources and when to just get the movie out and let it be what it will.
It’s just kind of hard to tell what the movie is about or what the focus of the story is in the context of the limited marketing on display here. The relationship between the characters isn’t unclear, the story a bit convoluted and the dynamics in play muddled. So even those who are big fans of solid geopolitical dramas aren’t going to get much to sink their teeth into here. Whatever brand recognition Didion’s original novel, combined with a bit of interest generated by the well-known cast, then becomes the biggest selling point, albeit one that isn’t featured prominently in the campaign.
Picking Up The Spare
Rees was the subject of a new featurette talking about her inspirations for the movie and more.
Joint interviews with Rees and Hathaway had them talking about the movie’s twist ending and how they were able to adapt the source novel while also exercising their own creative freedom.
Well after the film was released, Rees commented on some of the road bumps she encountered and the lessons she learned from the audience’s mixed reactions.