Richard Jenkins is one of the great figures of this country. The almost hanged dog, with a generally unpleasant appearance and demeanor that he cultivates in many of his roles, is impeccably effective when playing a nice and sympathetic Everyman, as in the 2014 mini-series “Olive Kitteridge ”. And it’s just as compelling when he plays a hard-headed organizational man in mainstream dishes like the 2012 action flick “Jack Reacher,” or gets played for an idiot in a comedy. idiosyncratic black like “Burn After Reading” from 2008.
And of course, it’s not just his way. Jenkins has the skill to make you see how his characters think. Or, in the case of his latest, “The Last Shift,” the first film he’s directed as a lead actor since his 2008 Oscar-nominated work “The Visitor,” how they don’t think.
Jenkins plays Stanley, who works in a small Michigan fast food town called Oscar’s. We first see him preparing, with great pride, a chicken sandwich. He wraps it up and adds it to the driving order of some high school students coming from a football match.
He jokes with them about the game, and the teens’ initial friendliness turns into slight but sharp derision. We can’t say that Stanley is ignoring him, as we can’t be sure he even registered with him.
It is a shock to learn that for Stanley this concert is not a side fuss or a diversion after retirement. He’s been with Oscar for almost 40 years and his last shift is imminent. After that, he plans to travel to Florida and join his mother, who appears to be imprisoned in a nursing home, her brother sent her a few years ago.
But Stanley takes the job seriously, and when he’s tasked with training his replacement, a young black man named Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie, who is an attractive actor and almost as crafty as Jenkins), he enthusiastically goes for it. Jevon is on probation – he degraded a federal monument and insulted his arresting officer – and needs the job, but he also knows how deadlocked it is. (His ambition is to write.). Handing Jevon a bunch of clear plastic procedures for food preparation, etc., Stanley says, “I like to call this our Bible.”
“Bible,” Jevon replies. “Are you coming up with that yourself?”
So far, so good, in the mismatched maybe-possibly-buddy-comedy department. But the film, written and directed by Andrew Cohn, wants a deeper dimension and, pursuing that, goes badly. In the conversation, Jevon asks about an incident at Stanley High School when a black student was beaten to death. Stanley hairs. Later, when Stanley himself is assaulted and robbed, he blames Jevon by association.
This leads to a development of the plot which surprises with its deafness of tone and which buries the subtle work of the actors here. Cohn doesn’t just fail to read the play – he doesn’t read the past 70 years. It’s clear by the end that he achieves some sort of ambiguity and resolve for Stanley’s character. But what ends up falling are messages from “nasty bigots, especially those from the lower class, who also need understanding.”
The last quarter
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters. Please review the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies in theaters.