Saturday, February 24, 2001

At 74 minutes, the British import “Last Resort” would seem to have running time to spare. Because a satisfactory conclusion to an affecting human-interest pretext is the obvious shortcoming, an additional 15 or 20 minutes might be just what the script doctor ordered.

This time could be devoted to sorting out alternatives facing a protagonist named Tanya, an inadvertent Russian exile in a dreary out-of-season ocean resort called Stonehaven.

Director and co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski, a Polish transplant who demonstrates a promising flair for naturalistic settings and character interplay, for some reason prefers to let his material fizzle. Indeed, talk of shooting with a skeleton scenario and incorporating oodles of improvisation has accompanied the film into release.

This is the first attraction in a new cycle of features from the art-house distributor the Shooting Gallery, which uses the Cineplex Odeon Foundry as a local showcase and had both “Croupier” and “Such a Long Journey” to its credit in 2000.

I’m willing to believe the performers improvised some admirable stuff, but “Last Resort” still caves from want of a purposeful dramatic structure and destination. It’s a little like a home-building project that stops short of a roof — evidently out of eccentricity or stubbornness rather than insufficient funds.

Tanya, whom we later discover has been a two-time loser at marriage in her native country, arrives at Stansted Airport in Kent with a resourceful 10-year-old son and expecting to be met and protected by her English boyfriend. He stands her up, making only a remote appearance later as a telephone voice from London.

Stranded and bewildered, she arouses the suspicion of customs officials. Rashly, she claims political asylum, which triggers a state of limbo she didn’t anticipate — perhaps as long as 16 months of red tape. Domiciled in a bleak apartment in a high-rise eyesore that borders an amusement park, Tanya contemplates a prolonged ordeal as a stateless welfare case.

The Russian actress Dina Kurzon, who resembles Emily Watson, proves to be an effectively vulnerable and ardent focus of interest. Tanya is not without native resources, including her clever and gregarious son (Artiom Strelnikov). The youngster eventually worries her by assimilating far too quickly with a local band of juvenile delinquents who are busy receivers of stolen goods and precocious abusers of hard liquor.

Several men take an interest in Tanya’s plight, ranging from an Internet porn entrepreneur named Les (impersonated with seemingly inimitable perfection by Lindsey Honey, who actually made a disreputable name for himself in England as a pornographer) to a sincerely smitten arcade manager named Alfie (Paddy Considine), who is trying to recover from his own history of hard knocks and bum choices.

After establishing a distinctive setting — Stonehaven is doubled by Margate, with the Dreamland amusement park as a dominant landmark — and making some storytelling progress — as Tanya gets her bearings and tries to promote some security without resorting to Les’ tempting bribes or throwing herself on the mercy of a new boyfriend — the director seems to get lost without a clue to his strongest elements.

It’s a blessing that Alfie doesn’t turn into a brute, a dire prospect that’s easy to imagine if you have seen Mr. Considine as a small-town predator in “A Room for Romeo Brass.”

One doesn’t feel as if the plot is under any obligation to endorse a romance between Alfie and Tanya, but the movie certainly could extend their relationship for a few more scenes and keep every option open.

The last-act miscalculations are rather like Tanya’s hasty request for political asylum. They jump the gun.

It’s worth getting acquainted with the people who contrived “Last Resort,” but they’re too quick on the draw with ill-formulated farewells.{*}{*}TITLE: “Last Resort”RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter, consistent with the R category; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; episodes involving juvenile crime and inebriation)CREDITS: Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Screenplay by Mr. Pawlikowski and Rowan Joffe. Cinematography by Ryszard Lenczweski. Production design by Tom Bowyer. Costume design by Julian Day. Music by Max de Wardener and Rowan Oliver.RUNNING TIME: 74 minutes

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