Monday 28 January 2013

The Last Stand

Last Man Standing

The Last Stand
USA 2013
Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Playing at cinemas now.

When an escaped prisoner is on the lam, his team ride into town to make sure that nothing can stop him going through the place which is the only town in between him and his escape route to the Mexican border.

But the sleepy town in question’s sheriff has other ideas...

Yeah, you guessed it. Jee-woon Kim, the South Korean director who gave us such films as the original version of A Tale Of Two Sisters and his rip-roaring tribute to the spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad, The Weird (reviewed here) has delivered us yet another “western-dressed-up-in-action-movie-clothing”. This time, however, it’s more like one of those 1950s John Wayne westerns where the sheriff is protecting the town from attack by the inevitable “bad guys”.

I’ve talked about this on here before, I think, but Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s my belief, is one of the few modern movie actors who brings exactly the same “larger than life” star quality to contemporary cinema that such actors as John Wayne and Errol Flynn used to bring with them. Toting all that baggage around isn’t always what’s good for the film, and sometimes they are just playing the same old variations of themselves, but their personality is so engaging that what they did bring to their pictures was worth it’s weight in gold at the box office. And Schwarzenegger’s role of Sheriff Ray Owens in The Last Stand is just the kind of part that calls for that easy. laid back style of acting blended with larger than life personality and the governator definitely delivers in spades here.

Now, talking of box office, it’s beyond amazing to me that this movie seems to have bombed in America... I don’t know why because I thought it was really great fun. Yes it’s cosy and comfy and formulaic and, maybe, a throwback to some of the action fests of the 1980s... but this really isn’t a bad thing and the “old school” oater plot combined with “action scenes on acid” direction from Kim, makes for a considerably entertaining time at the local cinema and, just in case some of the contemporary movie audiences these days have possibly forgotten this... art can also be entertainment and popcorn fodder like this one still requires a large amount of skill behind and in front of the camera... and if you like action movies or old westerns, then you might want to give this one a chance.

The performances are standout with some great “old friends” of cinema doing a fine job in terms of making it all look easy. Forest Whitaker is fantastic, as is Luis Guzmán (wearing a cowboy hat, no less, to really push the point home) and I have no idea who Johnny Knoxville is, but he’s a fun watch in this. You also have young Jamie Alexander from Thor doing a brilliant job as the main female lead and, of course, the always watchable Peter Stormare playing the principal, villain’s henchman. And, as one last nod to the film’s status as a western, you have an excellent, stand out cameo from one of cinema’s greatest character actors, Harry Dean Stanton. This is a good cast of people who make the thinly drawn characters easy to believe in.

And when I say thinly drawn characters, yeah that could be a negative in many movies, but here it works okay because the film is really well written (in some ways) and the clichéd set of protagonists (and antagonists) who populate this movie are so familiar to audiences these days, that with just a few broad sketches, you can reliably fill in all the blanks and it’s like you’ve been living with these people for years.

So stereotypes? Yeah.

But lovable stereotypes who you believe in and don’t want to see come to any harm... which obviously helps a lot in your emotional investment in the movie.

Now, on the whole, the editing during the action sequences is blistering but comprehensible... save for one sequence when I knew that one of the main characters had gotten blown up and killed but... he then turns up 5 minutes later unharmed. This is because I’d not been able to keep up with decoding the shots fast enough and got confused with which car had been hit with a rocket launcher. Maybe the next time I see it, which will be on DVD from whatever high street store sale is left standing by the end of the year, what with HMV in the way it is now, I’ll be able to decipher that stuff easier. It is just one little sequence in a movie full of absolutely wonderful action editing though, so maybe it’s not the editor’s fault and maybe not enough coverage was shot to be able to fix it in editing.

Either way, it’s a minor grumble for a film full of well edited action sequences which are violent, no doubt about it, but also have a certain sense of humour about them. I don’t know if it’s strictly right or morally cool to laugh when somebody is blown apart before your eyes and the arms land on a couple of people, causing them inconvenience, but it got a big laugh out of the audience I was watching it with and the tone of the piece tells you not to take the bloody, visceral nature of the on screen shenanigans too seriously.

Similarly, the dialogue is quite corny and clichéd throughout a lot of the film (although I wonder if I would have perceived it as such if I was watching it in Korean with English subtitles) but big Arnie and the gang play it with a knowing wink and despite there being some dialogue that may make a younger, more serious audience wince, the tone is pitch perfect and plays more as a parody than a series of clunky lines. You know the game the movie makers are playing with you here, and feel invited to join in, rather than alienated.

All in all, I thought this film was very well handled, hugely enjoyable and Schwarzenegger proves that he’s still as watchable and reliable as he always has been. It definitely deserves to do better than it is fairing at the box office at present and I’m hoping that, when the time comes for the DVD release, people will start to generate some good word of mouth on this little, action gem.

Hopefully Arnie will be back!

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