For a film about the end of the world, I expected something bleaker from Abel Ferrara, whose directing credits include the fantastically dark Bad Lieutenant and King of New York. 4:44 Last Day on Earth is an indulgent experiment into intimate filmmaking, and the action is largely restricted to the flat where two artists share their final hours together. Life on earth is ending at 4:44 a.m. the next morning due to a hole in the ozone layer, and these weary souls, played by Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh, patter around aimlessly in their final minutes. 4:44 Last Day on Earth hints at genuine human emotion but never says anything profound. The last minutes are apparently filled much as those that came before, and it all feels smugly pedestrian.
Free-spirited couple Cisco (Dafoe) and Skye (Leigh) share more than the curse of a silly name; the pair lives together in a city apartment where Skye throws paint at canvas while listening to enlightenment lectures and Cisco attempts to reconnect with his daughter via Skype. 4:44 Last Day on Earth informs its audience that "Al Gore was right;" the world is ending because of human carelessness. The film skips the pre-apocalypse run-up, and the streets are strangely calm hours before all life is extinguished. Strangely, cars still stream by outside and Cisco is able to order Chinese delivery to the apartment. One amusing sound bite has a news reporter asking if a meter maid is really handing out tickets that will never be paid.
Ferrara, no stranger to grim subjects, goes easy on the audience here, and 4:44 Last Day on Earth is more student-film experiment than apocalyptic cinema. Ferrara fills the screen with random images of newscasts, religious ceremonies and violence, and the spotlight on such hippy-drippy subjects is certainly no accident. Skye rambles on about returning to the light, and Cisco appears mostly uninterested until his ex-wife and Skye get into an explosive video-chat fight. These characters are not particularly interesting, and Skye has a knack for shrill helplessness that goads more than Cisco. Ferrara lingers too long as the pair makes love, as if to suggest their nighttime cocoon may insulate them from doom.
Technology is infused throughout the film, which is something Ferrara gets right. Families share their final goodbyes over Skype, and Cisco converses with his daughter via computer before breaking down at the prospect of never seeing her again. In one touching scene, the Chinese deliveryman uses Cisco's computer to bid his family farewell as Skye watches in tears nearby. Skye's final words with her mother are also poignant, and 4:44 Last Day on Earth allows them to conclude their earthly relationship without focusing on pain or death. All this melancholy is surprisingly not, and only a few such moments have similar resonance. Dafoe is reserved here, and Ferrara makes his real-life girlfriend Leigh numbly hysterical. 4:44 Last Day on Earth was not meant as a broad survey of the end of the word. Its focus is tight, but it still wanders into uninteresting waters.
The 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer displays nice detail in close-ups, such as the lines on Dafoe's face and paint texture of Skye's artwork. Colors are cool and well saturated, and black levels are deep. Wider shots display adequate texture and detail, and the Red One digital camera's image is accurately represented. There are some issues with banding and shimmer, but these may be the result of some cheap effects compositing.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is not particularly aggressive, but it suits the quiet film. Dialogue is clear throughout, and the minimal ambient effects and score are well balanced. There is not much surround action here, but the track features a bit of directional dialogue. An English LPCM 2.0 track is also included, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer (2:15/HD).
Abel Ferrara's intimate look at the end of the world feels a lot like a student-film experiment, and is rife with images of doomsday news, violence and environmental strife. Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh face the end together in a city loft, where the pair does nothing particularly important. Leigh searches for enlightenment while Dafoe fights off past demons. 4:44 Last Day on Earth is sporadically compelling when it spotlights the relationship between technology and human interaction, but gets too bogged down by underdeveloped spiritual exploration. Rent It.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.