Review: ‘Last Call for Istanbul’ – A Daring Modern Twist on Forbidden Love

Forget roses and grand gestures, Last Call for Istanbul simmers with a forbidden love that’s as intoxicating as Turkish coffee on a rooftop overlooking the Bosphorus, or in this case, New York City. Beren Saat and Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ deliver a slow-burn romance punctuated by moments as thrilling as a whirlwind taxi chase through the Big Apple’s vibrant streets; where passionate encounters in dimly lit bars collide with jarring detours into the city’s underbelly.  Last Call for Istanbul is not perfect but the flaws are outweighed by the charm and spice and the notion that ultimately love prevails. 

The story of Last Call for Istanbul

Last Call For Istanbul is about two married people who meet in an airport and face irresistible romantic tension as they try to track down switched luggage and enjoy the sights, sounds, and all the drama of New York City. If you’re a typical romance fan, the idea that these two people will get together and cheat on their spouses is off-putting. It makes it hard to root for them and their romance until you get to the twist. And it’s a huge twist. They’re a married couple, and their marriage counselor has suggested that they try this role play to see if their marriage is worth saving.

This revelation reframes everything. The stolen glances and touches, the whispered secrets, the simmering tension – it’s no longer a betrayal but a desperate attempt to rediscover each other. At the core, the desperate effort is the ultimate romantic gesture. Will their simulated passion reignite the real thing, or will their New York fling become a bittersweet reminder of what they’ve lost? As an audience, that’s the journey we’re on.

Last Call for Istanbul is a delicious paradox, a love story that’s both forbidden and sanctioned and oh so exciting to watch.

The chemistry between Beren Saat and Kivanç Tatlitug

If you’re a Dizi fan, you’re undoubtedly familiar with leading lady Beren Saat and leading man Kivanç Tatlitug or our Mehmet and Serin in Last Call for Istanbul. Forbidden Love is kind of their thing – that is, the show the actors worked on together and are best known for. Aşk-ı Memnuotherwise known as Forbidden Love, was a massively successful Dizi on Kanal D. Mehmet and Serin are not a Bihter and Behlül redux, but the actors do share the same ease of working together, and it comes through in their chemistry on screen. The real fun of their romance comes when you unravel the twist that the couple is actually married.  Suddenly, rooting for Mehmet and Serin isn’t just a guilty pleasure.

Last Call for Istanbul. (L to R) Kivanç Tatlitug as Mehmet, Beren Saat as Serin in Last Call for Istanbul. Image courtesy of Netflix .© 2023
Last Call for Istanbul. (L to R) Kivanç Tatlitug as Mehmet, Beren Saat as Serin in Last Call for Istanbul. Image courtesy of Netflix .© 2023

Gorgeous opening credits

Usually, the intro of a romance movie doesn’t warrant mentioning; you’d more likely comment on a stylish Bond film versus something with Julia Roberts. Last Call for Istanbul’s opening sequence taps into a new trend in romance covers that eschew the traditional clinch for something more approachable and artistic. This illustrated style, infused with pop art’s playful energy, sets the tone for a film that promises to be anything but ordinary.

New York City as a central character in Last Call for Istanbul

Although the movie is called Last Call for Istanbul, there might as well have been “I Love New York” somewhere in the subtitle. (Or by the end of the movie, in this case, “Our marriage survived New York.”) The city is a character in this drama, and the project’s creators are intentionally not subtle about it. There’s even a moment where Mehmet and Serin comment on this fact – New York is so familiar to them because they’ve seen it in hundreds of American movies. 

Many people have a romanticized version of NYC, and Last Call for Istanbul plays on that through the lens of Turkish culture. There’s a shared knowledge built on touchstones we expect to see – NYC taxis, big buildings, pushy people. And we see all that in the movie. Serin’s dream, which we discover towards the end of the series, is to go to New York and have a successful fashion job. Interestingly, this movie portrays more than just the glamour of the city. 

Mehmet and Serin’s moment of danger

The fragile illusion of Mehmet and Serin’s burgeoning connection shatters on the harsh, almost cartoonish shores of a scene set in a city underbelly caricature. While the intent to depict a gritty reality is evident, the execution leans heavily on exaggerated tropes familiar to those who have watched a dizi or two. This jarring juxtaposition of danger and over-the-top caricature, reminiscent of an SNL skit, disrupts the film’s aesthetic flow and undermines the emotional coherence of their relationship. Story wise, it’s an attempt to act as a catalyst for what happens next for the couple. While one can appreciate the effort to inject rawness and to take off the rose colored NYC glasses, the execution  clashes with the film’s overall stylistic and emotional palette.

Last Call for Istanbul. Beren Saat as Serin in Last Call for Istanbul. Image courtesy of Netflix © 2023
Last Call for Istanbul. Beren Saat as Serin in Last Call for Istanbul. Image courtesy of Netflix. © 2023

Risque by Turkish standards

Last Call for Istanbul is not your standard Turkish drama. Its R rating reflects the content it features, including mature themes. Many moments in the film are quite racy, and there are moments of violence and illegal substance use. But that’s the benefit of being on Netflix. 

Not only are there some very intense sexual scenarios, and indeed, a person could make the argument that the tension between Mehmet and Serin leading up to these scenarios drives the story, but there’s also quite a bit of foul language in English. You won’t need subtitles to understand what Kivanç Tatlitug’s character is saying. Last Call for Istanbul doesn’t feature Game of Thrones-level steam, 

If you’ve watched When Harry Met Sally, you’ll note some suggestive parallels between the beloved Meg Ryan rom-com and Last Call for Istanbul. Beren Saat’s Serin enters a “fake orgasm” contest in a club (instead of Katz’s deli) to cause sexual and emotional tension with Mehmet. Mehmet didn’t have what she was having like Billy Crystal in the deli, but the duo did continue their night together, a sash proclaiming Serin the contest winner and all. 

Final thoughts on Last Call for Istanbul

Last Call for Istanbul is a Turkish delight, a stylishly simmering love story with a touch of voyeuristic spice. It’s a slow burn, yes, and the path to happily ever after is paved with melodramatic bus detours and the occasional, jarring dark alley. But for those who surrender to its intoxicating blend of romance and edge, the reward is a potent cocktail of cinematic passion. 

Last Call for Istanbul is now streaming

Last Call for Istanbul is now streaming on Netflix. Watch it however you like to stream your media.

Have you watched the film yet? What did you think? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or by messaging us on X @MoviesWeTexted.

If you are looking for more international movies, check out all of our international reviews. 

If you want more Romance (and who doesn’t?), check out all of our romance reviews.