The Last Sentence is a stark, intimate drama which may appeal to World War II history buffs. With this 2012 film, master Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell crafted a sympathetic portrait of journalist Torgny Segerstedt, a fellow Swede who was instrumental in alerting his country to the threat of Fascism coming from Germany - years before it had a devastating effect on history. Segerstedt is given an excellent, stately portrayal by Danish actor Jesper Christensen in what amounts to a turgid, well-intentioned biopic. In focusing on the subject's inner thoughts over the enthralling history he helped create, Jan Troell laid down one bone-dry, resistible movie.
An admiring view of investigative journalism - crisply photographed in black and white - The Last Sentence has a surface similarity to 2005's Edward R. Murrow biopic, Good Night, and Good Luck. Although it takes place in the newspaper world a couple of decades earlier, this movie's portrayal of Segerstedt makes him out to be a Murrow-like figure in '30s-'40s Sweden. The movie depicts his single-minded pursuit of a story which the government wants to suppress, despite constant warnings from his publisher (Björn Granath as Segerstedt's real-life news colleague, Axel Forssman) and family that it will ruin his reputation. The film does an adequate job of showing the resistance he faced, publishing blistering editorials against Fascism at a time when Sweden (like the other Scandinavian countries) worked mightily to project an image of neutrality. Segerstedt's rabble rousing helped to escalate the war in his homeland, however, which put Sweden's scaled-down military at a disadvantage when the Nazis came calling.
Director Troell depicts Segerstedt's actions with an undercurrent of self-doubt, which comes through well in Christensen's haunted performance. A former theologian forever in search of meaning in his life, Segerstedt emerges as an aloof man who ultimately finds his only solace in the pet dogs he faithfully troops into the office every morning. Although this story would have benefitted from being done in straightforward manner, Troell takes the armchair psychologist route, attempting to tie Segerstedt's modus operandi in with his tangled relationships with women. The way the movie tells it, Torgny's crusade was dampened by his long-suffering, damaged wife, Puste (Ulla Skoog), and Maja (Pernilla August), the vivacious publisher's wife and Torgny's longtime mistress. As if the intrusions of the semi-psychotic Puste and drug-addicted Maja weren't enough, Torgny is also haunted by visions of his mother, Ingrid (Johanna Troell), whose death left a traumatic impact on him as a child. Scenes with Torgny conversing with dead people (besides his mother, others follow) have an offbeat Six Feet Under feel, yet Troell fails to make a convincing case of how these women impacted his anti-Nazi editorials. Except for the eventual reveal that Maja is Jewish, the movie keeps Segerstedt's private affairs and public crusades strictly separated.
The Last Sentence is made with a cool precision, with some gorgeously shot sequences and nuanced performances from the three lead actors. The lead-footed pacing may test even the most patient of viewers, however, and Troell's insistent zeroing in on Segerstedt's private life serves no great purpose.
Music Box Films' DVD edition of The Last Sentence preserves the crisp black and white photography in a 16x9 widescreen presentation. While a too-clean, ditigally generated image completely lacking in grain worked to the movie's detriment, at least it looks good on disc with a wide range of grey tones and a goodly amount of detail.
The disc furnishes a similarly clean 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, in Swedish with optional English subtitles. The mix job provides some atmosphere with pristine dialogue and mood-enhancing sound effects (particularly in the opening scenes of dead leaves drifting through a stream). No other audio or subtitle options are provided.
The 45-minute making-of featurette A Close Scrutiny was directed by Troell's daughter, Yohanna (who also played Torgny Segerstedt's daughter in the film). Along with interviews with Troell and the main cast members, Yohanna narrates this film in English, providing some interesting insights on her father's working methods. Although Yohanna seems arch and film school student-ish at times, this feature was a valuable addition. The only other extra is the film's Theatrical Trailer.
With 2012's turgid historic bio The Last Sentence, veteran Swedish director Jan Troell explores the mind of Torgny Segerstedt, the iron-willed journalist who embarked on a one-man crusade to warn his fellow Swedes about Hitler in the 1930s. It's a well-intentioned movie full of nuanced performances (particularly Jesper Christensen's lead), but the director's emphasis on Torgny's inner turmoil leaves it flat and lifeless. Rent It.