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Love and loss on the Emerald Isle – ‘The Last Right’

April 12, 2021
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There’s something sacred about the rituals that come with saying goodbye, regardless of the culture from which you hail. No matter who you are or where you’re from, odds are that you or someone close to you has very specific ideas about what will happen when you die (logistical ideas, mind you, not metaphysical ones – we haven’t got all day).

But what happens when circumstances upend those expectations and you’re forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to fulfill them?

That’s the question that Irish filmmaker Aoife Crehan addresses in “The Last Right.” Written and directed by Crehan, it’s the story of a man whose personal journey of grief is thrown into chaos by the actions of the stranger sitting next to him on an airplane – chaos that may eventually lead him to discover the order he was always meant to experience.

It’s one of those movies that brings a lot to the table. You’ve got family secrets and dysfunction. You’ve got a little romance, plenty of situational comedy and even some heist vibes. All in service to telling a small story of what it means to follow through on a promise … even if it’s a promise you never really made.

Daniel Murphy (Michiel Huisman, TV’s “The Flight Attendant”) is flying to Ireland to attend to his mother’s affairs following her passing. He’s on the verge of making partner at his law firm, so his grief at his mom’s death is interwoven with the stress of needing to make sure certain things are done ahead of the Christmas holiday, just a few days away. His seatmate is a congenial older Irish fellow, heading back for his long-estranged brother’s funeral. Daniel is a bit nonplussed by the man’s forthcoming nature, but settles in for the long trip.

Upon arrival, however, things get complicated – Daniel’s seatmate is dead.

Complicating things further is the fact that the man has, for reasons known only to himself, named Daniel as his next of kin, leading to no little confusion at the airport. After he makes clear the fact that he is no relation to the deceased, he finally makes his way to his mother’s house.

His mom’s solicitor-turned-more Frank (Michael McElhatton, “The Winter Lake”) is there, as is his younger brother Louis (Samuel Bottomley, “Running Naked”). Louis is autistic and struggling mightily with the massive changes that have come with the death of his mother, so much so that he proves unable to handle the memorial service, choosing instead to hide in a back room. It’s here that he meets Mary (Niamh Algar, TV’s “Raised By Wolves”), the free-spirited sister of one of the local funereal embalmers.

When it turns out that Daniel’s not-relative is due to be buried in an unmarked grave, far from his brother’s resting place, Daniel decides to do something about it (with some urging from his brother and the patiently waiting Father Reilly (Brian Cox, TV’s “From Now”)). Daniel and Louis wind up teaming with Mary to make the journey to Northern Ireland, coffin in tow. However, the authorities – specifically, Detective Donall Crowley (Colm Meaney, “Pixie”) – believe that laws are being broken and are trying to stop them.

What follows is a journey across the beautiful Irish countryside. There’s a romantic spark between Daniel and Mary; he’s also given a second chance to connect with the brother he hasn’t seen in so long. But reconnection comes with risk, and when family strife and secrets start to boil over, Daniel is left afraid and frustrated. But their mission carries on.

“The Last Right” is a quietly charming film. There’s a relentless underlying sweetness that never really dissipates, even when the narrative veers into less pleasant territory. The dramatis personae is made up of the sorts of endearing oddballs that tend to appear in Irish films of this ilk, though Crehan proves more willing to push the envelope in that regard than some of her peers.

She does a remarkable job in capturing the lush and verdant backdrop. There’s a unique and undeniable energy to Ireland – an energy that serves as the primary fuel source for this film, though it could always use a little more. Crehan has an eye for lovely screen pictures, but also proves adept at avoiding the almost inevitable feeling of stasis that can come from extended in-vehicle sequences.

And of course, the story. Crehan throws a lot at the viewer over the course of the film’s relatively tight runtime – right around 100 minutes – but never loses the thread. Things get a bit weird at times, bordering on the absurd, yet the director manages to ensure that everyone remains somewhat grounded, even in the face of dire circumstances and startling revelations.

The performers are asked to do a fair amount of heavy lifting here, but they prove up to the task. Huisman does good work in creating a character who is an a-hole, yes, but a redeemable a-hole; it’s a tight line to walk. Bottomley gives a quality performance, though he does occasionally succumb to the temptation of certain perceived stereotypical behaviors of autism. Algar’s Mary is a delightful weirdo, a scattershot personality whose motivations are never 100% clear. The film is at its best when it is this trio, engaging with one another for good and bad.

The supporting cast is solid. Old pros like Meaney and McElhatton do precisely the sorts of things that directors hire them to do. As for Brian Cox, well … he’s good, but it is abundantly clear that his availability was VERY limited. Still, they do a lot with a little.

“The Last Right” is a small film that never feels small. There’s an expressive spirit that permeates the whole thing, charming us with the predictable and unpredictable alike. It’s a film about love and loss and the ties that bind us together, whether we want them to or not.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 12 April 2021 10:55

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