“Last Will” is a fascinating tale with a talented cast of actors who make the story highly believable in this age of deceit and greed which permeates the media daily. We all remember Tatum O’Neal for her Oscar-winning performance in “Paper Moon” when she was ten years old, co-starring with her father, Ryan O’Neal. It is good to see her as an adult actor, able to succeed in a mature role.
Tatum O'Neal - Wikimedia
The story begins with the wedding reception of two mature adults, Hayden Palmer (Tatum O’Neal) and Frank Emery (Tom Berenger). Frank is a medical doctor whose family owns a great deal of property in Kansas City, overseen mostly by his two brothers, Virgil and Joseph. Frank, the older brother, is the only heir to his father’s estate, as the preferred son in the family.
Frank and Hayden honeymooned in Acapulco, which afforded the audience breath-taking views of the area, as well as confirmation that the couple were deeply in love and happy to spend the rest of their adult lives with each other.
Hayden Visits the Emery Properties
Upon returning to Kansas City, Frank informed Hayden that he was putting her in charge of the State Street Project properties in the city which had fallen into disrepair. Frank’s brothers Virgil and Joseph intended to tear down the properties and build high-rise condos in their place. When Hayden visited the area, she talked to some of the low-income residents and decided that they should not be evicted but that the Emery properties would serve the residents more kindly by renovating the buildings in the area. At the same time, Frank showed Hayden a new will he had made, leaving his fortune to her rather than to his brothers. He did, however, ask Hayden to take care of his brothers.
Tom Berenger - Wikimedia
Hayden Examines the Books
In looking through the Emery business files, Hayden uncovered evidence of improprieties. The brothers were cooking the books and making payouts to city officials as a cover-up. She let Frank know about her discoveries.
Hayden and Laurie Explore the Poker Club
Hayden’s brother Michael (William Shockley) was an attorney and told Hayden to be careful of the Emery brothers; she might be in over her head. His assistant Laurie (Shawn Huff) was Hayden’s best friend. When Frank was out for a night of poker with his brothers and their friends at a private club, Hayden and Laurie got together for the evening. Laurie informed Hayden that more went on at the Poker parties than just a poker game. Strippers were invited to the parties for the men. To prove her point, Laurie took Hayden to the club in the dark of night, and they were able to see through the window that strippers were indeed present at the party. Hayden took some pictures with her phone for future reference. She noted, however, that Frank was totally absorbed in his poker game and was not involved in activity with the strippers. Guards discovered the two girls on the property and they were led out summarily.
Detective Sloan Answers Hayden’s Call
The next day Hayden realized that an intruder had entered the house and she called 911. Detective Sloan (James Brolin) showed up just after Joseph Emery revealed that he had let himself in the house. Hayden explained to Sloan that it was a mistake; James was her brother-in-law.
Frank Suffers a Stroke
Hayden received a call from the hospital that Frank had fainted while doing surgery. She quickly drove to the hospital to learn that he had had a second stroke, which is usually fatal. The doctor warned Frank that he was not to drink alcohol again; it could kill him. When Frank was recuperating at home, Hayden did not allow his brothers to visit him, which did not sit well with the Emery boys.
The Emery Boys Take Frank to a Bar
When Frank asked for more pills, Hayden went into town to pick them up from the pharmacy. Upon her return, Frank had disappeared. She learned that his brothers had taken him to a bar and they all had several drinks. She was not aware that they persuaded Frank to sign some papers which were, in effect, a new will leaving Frank’s assets to his brothers rather than to Hayden.
Scale of Justice - Wikimedia
Hayden is Locked Out of Her House
The boys brought Frank back home and locked Hayden out of her house. She learned from their attorney that Frank had filed for divorce, had cut off all contact with her, and had a restraining order to keep her away from Frank.
Frank Passed Away
Staying with her brother Michael, Hayden received a call from the doctor asking her to come to Frank’s house. Frank had passed away. Detective Sloan informed her later that the autopsy showed that Frank had petechial hemorrhage marks on his face, an indication that he had been smothered. Hayden was taken in for questioning and was charged with Frank’s murder. The Emery boys had witnesses that they were at their private club when the murder occurred.
Hayden and Laurie Examine the Emery Records
Judge Carver requested that all of the Emery records for the past six months should be made available to Hayden. She and her friend Laurie combed through the records for any indications of impropriety.
At the trial, Hayden explained that she had wanted to stop the State Street Project where low income families were in danger of being evicted. A female blackjack dealer had notarized a new will for the brothers.
When Hayden’s brother Michael, who was acting as her attorney, went to the casino to interview the blackjack dealer, he was accosted in the men’s room and was beaten so severely that he had to be hospitalized. The Emery boys had agreed to settle with her for one third of Frank’s assets; Michael told her she was not to take a settlement.
The Emery Attorney was Killed
Hayden received a phone call from Belinda DeNovi (Moon Unit Zappa), the Emery brother’s female attorney. She asked to meet with Hayden. On her way to the meeting, DeNovi was assaulted by an unknown person who was able to effect a quick puncture to the spleen. It was revealed that DeNovi had recused herself from serving as an attorney for the Emerys the previous day.
Peter Coyote - Wikimedia
The Judge was Present at the Gambling Party
While checking the photos on her phone which she had taken from outside the gambling club, Hayden realized that Judge Carver (Peter Coyote), the judge on her case, was at the gambling party that night. Detective Sloan confronted the judge with that piece of information, which disturbed him greatly. It was learned later that day that Judge Carver had then taken his own life.
The Coroner Had Received a Bribe
Upon combing through the Emery records of the past six months, Hayden uncovered a payment for a new car made out to the doctor who had stated on the autopsy that petechial hemorrhage marks were found on Frank’s face at the time of his death. Detective Sloan ordered an exhumation of Frank’s body, which revealed that there were no such marks on Frank’s body.
A Surprise Ending
Hayden did not kill Frank; the Emery boys had a solid alibi. The surprise ending could not have been predicted. Frank was indeed murdered. You will have to see the film to learn who was the perpetrator. It took me by surprise, indeed.
This film was most enjoyable. I recommend it to anyone who wants to spend two hours watching a remarkable cast bring this story to the screen. It was fun and suspenseful at the same time.