"Last Night," a quirky comedy-drama from Canadian filmmaker Don McKellar, if nothing else offers a telling glimpse of the difference between apocalypse American-style and the end of the world as viewed by our continent-mates to the north.
In Hollywood, doomsday gets easily averted with a bit of heroic help from the likes of asteroid-slayer Bruce Willis in Armageddon or the ever-reliable Arnold Schwarzenegger, dueling with the devil in Thanksgiving turkey End of Days McKellar, a first-time director best known for acting in movies helmed by fellow Canadians Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, instead goes for a thoughtful approach. "Last Night" owes its shape, and much of its offbeat appeal, to an intriguing question: How would you spend the last six hours of your life if you knew that the end was imminent?
The characters, played by a cast of hip, familiar actors, behave in ways that might be expected. Some draw close to loved ones, while others see it through in solitude. Lifelong desires are fulfilled. Anarchists take to the streets, overturning cars and shooting people at random. Believers gather in prayer.
Patrick, portrayed by McKellar, is a bitter young man still grieving over the untimely death of his true love. He dutifully attends a "Christmas" dinner with his parents, a younger sister (Sarah Polley of Guinevere and Go), her new boyfriend (Trent McMullen) and other relatives. But he refuses to partake in the pretend festiveness or to promise to spend the remainder of the evening with his family. "The world is ending tonight at midnight, and that's kept me a little preoccupied lately," he exclaims.
His old friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie), on the other hand, wants to go out with a bang -- or maybe two or three. So he spends his last breathing hours carrying out a series of sexual fantasies, including a tumble with his high-school French teacher (Genevieve Bujold).
A gas-company employee played by Cronenberg works late at the office, faithfully calling customers with this message: "Rest assured that we will make every effort to keep the gas flowing right until the end." A pianist and his buddy scour the streets of Toronto, handing out free tickets to the musician's debut -- and final performance -- at the city's prestigious concert hall. And in a funny television bit, Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive is seen "taking care of business," leading 600 rock & rollers in a show billed as the world's largest guitar jam.
Patrick's plans for a little last-minute solitude are spoiled by the arrival of Sandra (Sandra Oh of HBO's "Arli$$"), an attractive woman repeatedly thwarted in her efforts to locate her husband, the gas-company guy. After buying wine at an eerie, emptied-out store, she finds her car vandalized and shows up at Patrick's apartment, begging to use the phone.
The saddest, most moving sequence occurs when the two strangers spill their guts to one another, aiming for a bit of sudden, saving emotional intimacy. "Tell me something to make me love you," Sandra begs Patrick.
McKellar, the co-screenwriter of The Red Violin and "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould," hints at the kind of apocalyptic mania that might erupt if the world were ending somehow. (The specifics are never defined.) But many of the characters of "Last Night" face their deaths with eyes wide open, with as much faith and grace as they can muster.