Last Supper
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The Last Supper

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A very difficult genre to master is the dark comedy. The director, writer and actors must tread the thin line between getting the laugh and disgusting the audience. One film that teeters on the line of good taste yet never falls over the edge is The Last Supper. Made in 1995 this film is a combination of excellent actors, a gifted writer and talented director. The setting is a country home used by five very liberal graduate students. They meet each week in the house they share for a dinner and intellectual discussion of ‘important issues’. The group consists of the beautiful blonde Jude (Cameron Diaz), the serious girl Paulie (Annabeth Gish), the liberal black man Luke (Courtney B. Vance), shy Pete (Ron Eldard) and the more forceful Marc (Jonathan Penner). One stormy night (isn’t always a dark and stormy night?) Pete has trouble on the road and is picked up by a red neck veteran of Desert Storm, Zack (Bill Paxton). To thank the stranger they invite him to stay for dinner. Over the supper Zack eposes his views of the world including the way liberals like to talk about saving the world but actually do nothing real towards that end. As the conversation becomes more heated then violent Zack attacks Marc. Pete tries to help and receives a broken arm for his trouble. Partly out in defense and partially from anger Marc kills Zack. Not only does the group conspire to hide the murder the come up with an idea. By killing Zach they actually improved the world by removing a potential Hitler. Yes they do tend to exaggerate just a bit. As liberals they feel it is their responsibility to rid the world of those ignorant of their noble liberal doctrine. Now, they don’t want to be cruel in their removal of these blights on society so they devise a plan to serve poison wine with dessert. If the dinner conversation shows they should live one bottle of good wine is served, if not the fatal beverage is offered. Its simple, good person, green bottle, bad gets the blue. Soon the conservative guests parade into dinner and finally back out to a shallow grave ending up as really great food for the group’s organic tomatoes. It is the dinner conversation that really makes the writing of this film. Almost every topic imaginable is discussed from abortion, to curing homosexuality, to a man that feels that there is no such crime as rape. When one guest shows up with a swastika the fatal wine comes out before the first course, ‘why waste good food?" This film is not a banner held by either the right or left wings. Both sides are equally shown as intolerant and self righteous. Part of the dark humor is in the fact that the grad school five seem oblivious to this.

When I first saw this film on one of the independent film channels on cable I was drawn in by the cast. Some of my favorite actors are present in this flick either as victim or perpetrator. Diaz goes beyond the role she typically held at that time as the silly blond. Here she is intelligent and is often part of greatly presented dialogue. Gish, best known for her work in Mystic Pizza, is one of the most under utilized actors of our time. She plays a perfect counter point not only to Diaz but against the rest of the cast as well. Penner still comes off a bit like the jock of the group. Married to the director may have helped but he certainly earned his place in this stellar cast. He also served as co executive producer. Vance is an incredibly powerful presence in this film. He is obviously the controlling force in the group. As the leader he is out of his league. It is one thing to moderate a lively discussion among friends but Luke is forced into the head of a murder club. Among the better dinners is Charles Durning as a homophobe minister and Mark Harmon as the ultimate sexist pig. Topping off the conservative dinner guest is Ron Perlman as a form of Rush Limbage. His end game with the group is a mastery of dialogue and scene direction. Also look for Saturday Night Live alum Nora Dunn as the sheriff that inadvertently discovers the covert activities.

Stacy Title directed this dark comedy. She has only directed three films, this being the middle one, but each one is an atmospheric delight. Check out Let the Devil Wear Black if you like Last Supper. She stages the like one of those off Broadway productions in Greenwich Village I used to love to watch. There is simplicity in the almost one set production that provides enough of a setting without distracting from the cutting words of the script or acting on the part of the cast. She knows her way around lighting and how to place her actors for the maximum use of her cast. Title gives enough direction to the fine cast to let each of them create a personality and run with it. There is a sense of intimacy that draws the audience into the plot and the lives of the culprits. I enjoyed how this film was present and it remains an all time favorite.

The disc is typical of so many of these little independent gems, plain vanilla. The extras are little more a couple of trailers. The audio is a clear Dolby Surround with a fairly well done anamorphic 1.85:1 video. Columbia/Tristar has really been coming to the forefront of providing these little know films to serious DVD collectors. This is not a perfect film; the scenes with the guests can seem a bit repetitive but for me it works. It is a film that dares to take more than a few chances and I have to respect that as a person that truly enjoys the media of film. If you want an entertaining movie that will make you laugh and give you interesting dinner conversation of your own this is a film to own.

Posted 1/23/03

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