With major blockbusters getting further delayed as a result of the coronavirus, most theaters across the country are filling their screens with classics and low-budget independent films. This provides audiences with the opportunity to see smaller movies on the big screen that they otherwise may have overlooked in favor of the latest Marvel flick or highly-praised awards contender.
One such smaller movie that opened this last weekend is “The Last Shift,” which details the lives of two men working the same dead-end job for a regional fast food chain.
The film is written and directed by Andrew Cohn, and it stars Richard Jenkins and Shane Paul McGhie. Jenkins’ character, Stanley, is an elderly white man who has spent over three decades of his life working the graveyard shift, flipping burgers and mopping floors at this fast food joint. When the film begins, Stanley has decided it’s time to hang up his visor and apron and move down to Florida to be with his mother. His last task before he can leave is to train his replacement.
This is where McGhie’s character, Jevon, comes in. Jevon is a young Black man who was recently released from prison. The parolee is struggling to get back up on his feet, and needs to hold down a job in order to provide for his infant child and avoid being sent back to prison to finish out his sentence.
The film has three stories in it; one focuses on Stanley getting himself ready to move to Florida, another centers around Jevon trying to pull his life together and provide for his kid and the last shows the two of them working together, learning from one another.
The two find themselves suddenly thrust together from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night. They both learn about the other’s perspective on life and society and how it compares to his own. They both have vastly different perspectives on various social and political issues, ranging from the corporation they work for to white privilege and racial inequality in America.
Throughout the film, Stanley and Jevon both form some sort of respect for each other. They often aren’t afraid to discuss their differences and experiences, but this also leads to conflict between the two of them. Even though they both grew up and reside in the same town, they live in two entirely separate worlds. Jevon grew up in a world where he’s often defined by his race and the assumptions people make of him because of it. Stanley, on the other hand, has found it nearly impossible to get ahead and out of his poor financial situation. As a result, Stanley has found himself stuck at the same job for most of his life. It’s an incredibly interesting dynamic to watch, and both characters undergo immense personal growth simply by seeing the viewpoints of the other.
The wonderful performances from Jenkins and McGhie add to the fascinating dynamic between the two.
The two are very different performers playing two polar opposite characters. Jenkins is more of a classic actor — he embraces the persona of his character and seemingly attempts to push himself out of his own head in order to embody the mindset and views of Stanley. McGhie, on the other hand, seems to be approaching Jevon through a more personal direction. Instead of trying to act like someone else, he brings a lot of himself to the role. It’s a more subtle and relaxed performance that doesn’t get caught up in the minutia.
Seeing these different approaches to performance on screen at the same time emphasizes the differences of the lead characters. It allows both characters to have their own space in the film, which ultimately results in the characters being equal in terms of the film’s focus. Neither of them is given any more or less narrative or emotional importance than the other.
“The Last Shift” is an excellent example of a film that deliberately ends the story without a conclusion, but that lack of a satisfying ending makes the movie all the more powerful.
Without going into too much detail about the film’s conclusion, “The Last Shift” highlights how one’s differences can affect their views of and even their actions toward others. It shows that everyone has their own struggles and demons to overcome, and this can often lead to mistreatment of others. The film also demonstrates that after said mistreatments, life often unjustly moves on without any sort of repercussions or consequences for one’s actions. “The Last Shift” manages to convey this idea by not actively pitting its two characters against each other, but rather placing them in the same setting and letting their beliefs and differences naturally guide them to the film’s conclusion. It makes it feel like an incredibly realistic scenario, which only adds to the drama of it all.
Because of the small nature of the film and the general lack of public awareness of it, “The Last Shift” is a film that will likely be unjustly overlooked by many.
I found the film to be an incredibly dynamic look at how two people — living in similar circumstances — can have vastly different life experiences. The movie explores both their differences and their similarities, and consequently leaves the audience reflecting on how their own experiences have shaped their personalities.