Vincent (Anthony Molinari) is a medicinal weed dealer in Los Angeles whose life turns upside down when Proposition 64 passes, fully legalizing the product and putting him out of business. What was previously a jet-setting lifestyle on the edge of legality becomes an endless struggle with state bureaucracy. Before Prop 64, Vincent and his partner, Bobby (Mister Fitzgerald), would travel by plane every morning to their growers, using their minds to cut deals and their fists to push back against competitors on the down low. Afterward, Vincent is nothing more than a courier because that’s all the state will license him to be. It’s a harsh slap in the face, but he’s dealing with it like the good man he is, one day at a time.
Soon, Bobby approaches him with a pitch — one last big sale. Some Armenian contacts have a massive supply of illegal weed that needs to be moved. Lacking funds on their own, Vincent and Bobby approach the Boss (Sala Baker) for a buy-in. They need to pay him back within a week, plus a little extra, but that’s not problem. Vincent and Bobby know how to move weed. At first, our hero is hesitant to dive head-first into such a complicated arrangement, but circumstances push him into saying “yes.”
It all goes wrong, of course.
The Last Deal is an entertaining and well-made micro-budget thriller with a commendable cast. It uses the cultural shift around the commercialization of recreational drugs as a unique backdrop for its story and has a lot to say about the subject, but it’s not preachy. With any major change to the way the world works, someone is going to be left behind. In the world of drugs, that doesn’t necessarily translate to someone sitting down and taking it from the new system.
Molinari’s portrayal of Vincent is interesting for what is, ultimately, a violent revenge film. Although Vincent has a boxing backstory, he’s never played as an uber-competent action hero. He doesn’t know where to buy a gun and he’s constantly outmatched in physical confrontations. He cries at tragedies and desperately wants to take care of his girlfriend, Tabitha (Jeffri Lauren). Although he embodies a traditionally masculine archetype, Molinari does a great job playing the character as a more down-to-earth human being. He’s not tempted by other women and is not prone to violence unless it’s the last resort. Most importantly, he makes some pretty relatable mistakes. He’s an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation.
Writer-director Jonathan Salemi embraces the cinematic tradition of shooting Los Angeles to look like an angelic version of hell. His vision of the city feels of a kind with hundreds of neo-noir depictions, but there’s a reason so many filmmakers have embraced the city’s sprawling variety this way. It works. It’s essentially crime-film shorthand.
What doesn’t work quite as well as the performances or the direction is the third act. It’s a sufficient escalation to resolve Vincent’s story, but there are a number of side characters who feel underdeveloped — particularly a hitman and his daughter, Kate (Linda Burzynski), who imply a wider world around The Last Deal that would have been additive to the otherwise fairly straightforward final act.
Of course, that would’ve expanded the film beyond its lightning-fact pacing, which otherwise works in its favor. The story continues to escalate, both in terms of action and our character’s choices, up until the final shot is fired. It never gets too big for the story it’s trying to tell and it never betrays the very everyman feel of Molinari’s performance.