PLOT: As the end of the world rapidly approaches, two longtime companions quarrel, make love, contemplate life and prepare for the end in New York City.
REVIEW: The world is coming to an end tomorrow at 4:44 in the morning. It's a known fact and there's nothing anyone can do about it other than accept it and wait. In a New York loft, two lovers have decided to spend their last hours making art, talking to loved ones via Skype, having passionate sex, laughing, fighting, and, for one of them, considering falling off the wagon. Because if it's the end of all things, why not get high?
Much like last year's MELANCHOLIA, Abel Ferrara's 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH is an end-of-the-world movie for the art-house crowd. Made on a small budget and set almost exclusively inside a spacious studio apartment, this is exactly what you'd expect Ferrara's vision of the apocalypse to look like; the director of such cult classics as THE KING OF NEW YORK, BAD LIEUTENANT and THE FUNERAL focuses intimately on the jeopardy a relationship finds itself in as it strains under the pressure of Earth's last day. No epic visions of chaos here; just a solemn small-scale character drama. But unlike those aforementioned movies, 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH lacks the fire and intensity of Ferrara's best work. Ironically, his movie about awaiting the world is low-key and fairly meandering.
Willem Dafoe stars as Cisco, and Shanyn Leigh is his (younger) lover Skye. In Ferrara's story, these people – along with allegedly the rest of the world – have long ago resigned themselves to the notion that the world is about to die. Explanations aren't given to the audience as to the exact how or why, though it's mentioned off-handedly that, of course, man's abuse of the planet is to blame. The characters have move passed the appropriate stages of panic, denial, fear, anger, etc. and now they're waiting it out. For Cisco, the thing to come to terms with is his sobriety; a former drug abuser, Cisco is tempted with the notion of getting high, his determined to stay clean, even on the last day of the world, wavering.
It's clear that Dafoe is something of a stand-in here for Ferrara, a former user himself who is likely wondering aloud what he'd do in the same situation. Dafoe, as can be counted upon, gives a strong performance filled with big, emotional moments that fall short of being melodramatic. The actor is so consistently reliable that we'd watch him do almost anything, and his presence helps move 4:44 along immeasurably. Leigh, too, is raw and unhinged; she exposes herself in more ways than one in this movie, and it would be shocking if she's not put on the map. The two forge a believable relationship, littered with palpable old wounds and insecurities, in the short time we know them.
Without the performers, however, Ferrara's film would suffer. It's never fully compelling, and, to be blunt, you really have to be a lover of art-house cinema for 4:44 to appeal to you. That's not to be pretentious about it, it's an unavoidable fact: the casual moviegoer will almost surely not find the patience to go along with 4:44's languid pace and uneventful narrative. The apocalypse is just the backdrop; you have to invest your time in these people and their drama, and neither are gripping enough. “This is how you're spending your last day on Earth?!” is what many will come away with. And if spending your last day with Willem Dafoe doesn't seem like a good way to go, that's saying something.