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4:44 Last Day on Earth

2011 | 82 min | R | 1.78:1

4:44 Last Day on Earth


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Theatrical release date

 20 April, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from 4:44 Last Day on Earth Blu-ray

4:44 Last Day on Earth Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 6, 2012

“4:44 Last Day on Earth” is a violently esoteric feature about a shared experience. It comes from Abel Ferrara, a moviemaker perhaps best known for 1992’s “Bad Lieutenant” and 1995’s “The Addiction.” Ferrara makes a considerable amount of art films these days, though none carry as provocative a premise as his latest effort. While it teases end of the world events and emotional breakdowns, the picture holds tight to the lead character, studying his feelings and frustrations as a peculiar design of doomsday arrives. Uncompromising in its hallucinatory qualities and densely symbolic, “4:44” is a difficult sit, better appreciated for its appealing thespian swings than any of its intended meaning.

With the ozone layer finally depleted, a cataclysmic climate event will occur worldwide on this day at 4:44 a.m., finishing off the Earth once and for all. For New Yorker Cisco (Willem Dafoe), the countdown clock is a persistent reminder of unrealized dreams, fractured relationships, and missed drug habits. Living with artist Skye (Shanyn Leigh), Cisco spends his last day alive studying his neighborhood and making efforts to contact his estranged daughter, carrying on as normally as possible. Checking in with friends (including Natasha Lyonne), engaging intimately with Skye, and processing his fears, Cisco wanders in and out of his thoughts as day turns into night, bracing himself for an unfathomable finality.

I could see “4:44 Last Day on Earth” upsetting many people who’ve come to the feature with some expectation of intensive dramatics and unhinged work from Dafoe. It’s not a disaster picture in the traditional sense, playing up the rattled mental state of Cisco and Skye, a tempestuous couple counterbalancing the end of their lives by sticking close to routine. There’s no Hand of God theatrics here, only daily business, with the characters spending most of the movie painting, ordering Chinese food (it’s good to know that to the bitter end, there will always be Chinese food), and attempting to contact loved ones on Skype. Actually, the communication service plays a prominent role in “4:44,” practically sponsoring the entire film as Cisco keeps ringing his daughter, hoping for some form of exchange before the end.

The banality of routine is essential to Ferrara’s vision, emphasizing the persistent movement of life as humanity plays a waiting game with death. It’s an intriguing premise, but one soaked in puddles of Eastern philosophy and conversational ramblings, pushing through artistic images, interviews, and news broadcasts to form a pastiche of thought, swarming Cisco’s head during this most vulnerable time. “4:44” is a stagnant, distracted picture, lacking any real drive to tell a comprehensive story. Instead, it’s a movie of images and thoughts, fights and sex, exploring intimacy and desperation without developing scenes to satisfaction. It’s borderline madness at times, which is exactly where Ferrara likes to remain. It’s not a chaotic film, but an effort that’s content to lie down and stare into the distance, finding significance in stillness, occasionally conjuring heated acts of discontent to remind the viewer that passion remains, even when it no longer has any real purpose.

Dafoe is a steady guide for Ferrara’s vision, providing a sense of life to the drabness, exploring the frame with control while creating compelling sensuality with Leigh. It’s a performance art piece at times, and even when it fails to find meaning, it’s always convincing. In fact, Dafoe’s work here is likely the only element of the production worth absolute praise, with the rest falling into interpretive ruts or cinematic tolerance issues. As with most of Ferrara’s work, “4:44 Last Day on Earth” is not an excitable picture. It’s an experiment in minimalism and expression that only demands to be seen by those perfectly willing to accept its empty spaces.

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Natasha Lyonne, Paz de la Huerta
Director: Abel Ferrara

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