Single take films seem to be all the rage right now. Films like Birdman and last year’s stellar 1917 create an engrossing and steady atmosphere using the illusion of a single take, often to stunning effect. A single take is meant to convey a journey, a constant sense of movement from one place to another.
Gavin Michael Booth’s Last Call contains two separate single takes, only there are no illusions here. These are two true “one takes,” presented side-by-side as they follow the film’s two leads. It’s an undeniably impressive experiment, but does it benefit the film itself?
Last Call follows an alcoholic named Scott (Daved Wilkins) who calls a helpline on the anniversary of his son’s death, only to realize he has the wrong number when he is connected with single mother Beth (Sarah Booth), who is working as a custodian for a local community college. What follows is their conversation in real-time, tracking a discussion that will change them both.
This is a plot that feels familiar in many regards, hitting some story beats that even casual film viewers will be familiar with. However, it is elevated by two things: the performances and the fact that the story unfolds in real-time.
Let’s start with the performances. Daved Wilkins has the tall task of playing a drunk for the entirety of the film’s brisk 70-minute runtime, but he rises to the occasion. His performance is full of mannerisms and tics that read true for someone who spends most of their time intoxicated, and his understated delivery in many exchanges is gutting. From the moment he appears on screen, there is a clear and ever-present sadness that permeates every slurred word or stumble to the kitchen.
However, it’s Sarah Booth’s performance as Beth that really makes this film sing. She gets a range of emotion to work with, and watching her slowly build compassion and sadness for this stranger is truly something to behold. By the film’s end, she’s a completely different person, and her transformation is believable solely based on the strength of her performance and the range she exhibits. Simply put, she’s a revelation.
Choosing to have this film unfold in real-time works in its favor as well. I was hesitant after its slow beginning, which is mostly free of dialogue and focusing on moving the characters into their respective locations, but once the conversation began, it was gripping.
The real-time storytelling goes hand-in-hand with the film’s use of two simultaneous single takes, an approach that I’m still a little divided on. It is undoubtedly a massive technical accomplishment, and enough credit cannot be given to Gavin Michael Booth and Seth Wessel-Estes, who both are credited with operating the cameras. It takes some real audacity to attempt this technique in this long of a form, and they deserve to be commended.
However, I can’t help but feel like this method limits the film visually. Many shots are static and focused on the characters as they speak, which helps the audience focus on the conversation but makes it fairly non-stimulating to watch. You have to wonder if doing away could have produced a more visually dynamic and engaging viewing experience.
Gripes with this technique and certain plot beats aside, I found Last Call to be an emotionally potent and well-acted drama. The film’s final act is absolutely gut-wrenching, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t brushing away tears in the closing scene.
This is a true performance showcase, and in that regard it is an unquestionable success. My issues with the decision to do everything in a single take aside, it is also a technical triumph, and the whole crew should be commended for pulling this impressive feat off. It’s not always the easiest watch, and it may leave you upset, but Last Call is worth answering.
Directed by: Gavin Michael Booth
Written by: Gavin Michael Booth, Daved Wilkins
Cast: Daved Wilkins, Sarah Booth, Matt Maenpaa