Combustible Celluloid
With: Richard Jenkins, Shane Paul McGhie, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Birgundi Baker, Allison Tolman, Ed O'Neill
Written by: Andrew Cohn
Directed by: Andrew Cohn
MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug use
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/25/2020

The Last Shift (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Burger Cling

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite some odd character choices and other small stumbles, the indie drama The Last Shift gets by on some fantastic performances, a great deal of bittersweet humor, and many snapshots of heartbreaking truths.

Stanley (Richard Jenkins) has proudly worked at Oscar's Chicken and Fish for 38 years, on the graveyard shift, in the small town of Albion, Michigan. He has decided to retire and move to Florida, where he plans to take care of his ailing mother. Before he can collect his final paycheck, he must train his replacement, parolee Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie).

For his part, Jevon wishes to pursue a writing career, but must work as a condition of his parole and to help his girlfriend (Birgundi Baker) take care of their young son. During the night, Stanley and Jevon make sandwiches and clean and talk. But one night a conversation turns to a racially-motivated murder that occurred years ago at Stanley's high school, and tempers flare. When Stanley later suffers some bad luck, he must make a hard decision that may affect Jevon as well.

While The Last Shift vividly and realistically captures its small town life and its economic and social struggles, the Stanley character raises some questions. His 38 years seem to have happened in a void, and other than his memories of high school, there's nothing about his actual life outside the restaurant. Nevertheless, Jenkins provides a deeply rich performance, full of wheezes and pains, giving Stanley an inner life that fills in some of the blanks. McGhie is excellent as well, holding his own with the veteran character actor.

Dealing with issues of race, the movie doesn't go very deep or very far, but it still covers its themes with some subtltey. Stanley clearly respects his boss Shazz (a terrific Da'Vine Joy Randolph) and likes Jevon, but he doesn't at all understand white privilege or systemic racism. (A scene in which Stanley deals with police after a traffic incident neatly underlines this.)

Writer/director Andrew Cohn lays out most of the discord with dialogue, but it never feels preachy or overwritten. A final encounter between Stanley and Jevon on a bus near the end feels somehow unsatisfying, but is perhaps realistic, and then a final upbeat coda for Jevon feels satisfying, and yet somehow false.

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