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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Last Stand (2013) review






THE LAST STAND 2013

Arnold Schwarzenegger (Ray Owens), Eduardo Noriega (Gabriel Cortez), Forest Whitaker (John Bannister), Peter Stormare (Burrell), Jaime Alexander (Sarah), Rodrigo Santoro (Frank Martinez), Luiz Guzman (Mike), Johnny Knoxville (Dinkum), Zach Gilford (Jerry), Genesis Rodriguez (Ellen Richards), Christiana Leucas (Christy), Harry Dean Stanton (farmer)

Directed by Kim Ji-woon

The Short Version: This formulaic, yet quick-quipped, fast paced 70s style action-western throwback from South Korean director Kim Ji-woon was supposed to be the big return to the big screen for Arnold Schwarzenegger in a lead role after a ten year gap. Unfortunately, THE LAST STAND may prove to be just that for the aging action superstar amidst a drastically poor domestic debut. Still, it moves along at a fair clip almost as fast as the 200mph Corvette ZR-1 featured in the flick. With a fair number of gun battles, hundreds of bullets, splatters of graphic gore, frenetic car chases and lovable, if underdeveloped characters, THE LAST STAND is the 'Guy Movie' to beat of 2013 so far.



While being transported to another location, Gabriel Cortez, a dangerously crafty drug lord, manages to escape custody with the help of his gang. Using a modified Corvette, Cortez -- who is also an ace race car driver -- makes a speedy escape for the Mexican border, but must pass through the small Arizona town of Summerton to get there. However, the former Narcotics Tactical Ops officer, the aging sheriff Owens, has no intentions of allowing Cortez or his men to use his Southwestern town as a gateway across the US border.

Asia has long shared a love affair with the American western which was later transmogrified with the advent of the Italian variants. Chinese kung fu films are essentially Asian examples of the archetypal western conventions that also adopted an Italian flavor melded with their own Asian ingredients. Some of these include Pan Lei's DOWNHILL THEY RIDE (1966), Korean director Shin Sang Ok's THE BANDITS (1971), Chang Tseng Chai's THE FUGITIVE (1972), the international co-production THE STRANGER & THE GUNFIGHTER (1974), Thailand's TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (2000), and most recently, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (2008) from Kim Ji-woon.




The director of such cult favorites as A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003), the above mentioned THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (2008) and I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) crosses the border to take the reigns of his first US production. Kim Ji-woon's earlier, epically spicy ode to the oater was a nitro paced, grand scaled Eastern Western. The South Korean helmer now makes a bonafide modern day sagebrush saga on American soil. It's quite an auspicious, if somewhat modest debut. 

It's also something of a modest endeavor for its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Far more smaller scale than the usual Arnie movie, this curiously works in the films favor. At 65 years of age, Arnold delivers what is arguably his most personable, possibly best acting performance of his career. His character of Ray Owens is a very wise man, a former Narcotics officer now a sheriff of a small, dusty Arizona town coming to grips with his mortality.

Schwarzenegger played off his twilight years with his role in last years THE EXPENDABLES 2 and does the same thing here. His performance showcases a vulnerability and distinctly human quality all but exempt from any number of his semi-superheroic action picture roles of years past. It's really quite jarring to see him in such a humanistic light, and refreshing all at the same time. That's not to say Arnold doesn't do what Arnold does best, he's just the polar opposite of the sort of persona he popularized in the 1980s and into the 1990s. There's a balance here, though. The nuanced cast surrounding Schwarzenegger add a great deal of pathos, humor and villainy to this production. 





Jaime Alexander (Sarah)
The town of Summerton (which is basically an Arizona based version of Mayberry, NC) is populated by a gaggle of lovable denizens and characters who make up the films heart and soul. The exposition on some of these characters is almost as barren as the nearby desert. This threadbare characterization doesn't impede the audience coming to like these lovable people. 

The script does little to steer character trajectory from the realm of predictability, but it's so well written and put together, it's too much fun to pay all that much attention to it.



The film pays the bulk of its attention to the three main participants -- sheriff Ray Owens, FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and the villainous Gabriel Cortez. Considering Kim's movie plays out just like a modern day western (much like the 1973 classic WALKING TALL and its many Vietnam Era clones), this triangular arc recalls the one from Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (1966); a character arc that likewise influenced a slew of Italian westerns with a Good, a Bad and an Ugly character making up its trifecta of principals.

Furthering the Italian western connection, there's even a nod (albeit comical) to Eastwood's emergence through a cloud of smoke from tossed dynamite during the climax of Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). Here, it's Luis Guzman's deputy character who emerges from the explosion raining down a flurry of lead onto the bad guys.

Additionally, like westerns and kung fu films, the men under the employ of Cortez all have those defining faces that, while we never get to know who they are, their features and their clothing give them their own signature look allowing them to stand out without having to be the focal point of any particular scene.

The plot of THE LAST STAND also draws inspiration from Howard Hawks' RIO BRAVO (1959) starring the undying representation of the American western, John Wayne. You could say this is Kim Ji-woon's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968); and like Leone's now classic picture, it, too was rejected by the movie-going public upon its debut.



Going back to the cast, Eduardo Noriega does fine with what he's given delivering a standard antagonist role, which is distinguished by the fact that not only is a cold-blooded drug runner, but he's also an accomplished race car driver. Personally, Peter Stormare (who plays Burrell, Cortez's chief subordinate) comes off as more psychotic than Noriega's interpretation as the main villain. Case in point being the suspenseful scene with Harry Dean Stanton. He has a fateful confrontation with Burrell upon the delivery of that classic western staple to "get off my land."



Johnny Knoxville is given top billing, but he's not in the movie all that much. But when he is, he adds greatly to the humorist qualities of the film. His character is gun nut, Dinkum. A cross between Barney Fife and his JACKASS persona, Dinkum has a barn full of weaponry that reinforces the long standing stereotype that 'the South and the Midwest love their guns'; and there's lots of guns in THE LAST STAND.




This unmistakable air of gun worship may put some off in light of current events in addition to oppressive political leanings demonizing the Second Amendment. In THE LAST STAND, everybody has a gun of some sort; even little old ladies! Not since Ruth Gordon in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978) and its sequel ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980), has 'Guns and the Granny' been such a welcome addition to the proceedings, even if only briefly seen. 

Genesis Rodriguez (agent Richards)
Regarding the gun culture championed here, guns replace the flashy CGI special effects of bigger action movies, while the computer enhancements seen here mostly make up the splattery results of those guns.

The action scenes are tightly edited and put together, occasionally dotted with that signature Asian flair that stretches credibility in the most creative of ways. With the action maintaining a balance of gun battles and car chases, the coda kicks off with an MMA cum kung fu climax wherein Owens and Cortez duel atop a bridge connecting the borders of America and Mexico. This finale is also comical in that Cortez keeps upping the price tag he will offer to Owens if only he'll just let him pass.




While Schwarzenegger's newest, and first lead role in a decade has shown an inability to stand tall at the box office, there's hope it will find an audience overseas and hopefully on domestic video. At 65 years old, the actor seems well aware there's only so many more times he'll "be back" to the big screen.


8 comments:

George Beremov [Nebular] said...

I still haven't seen this one, because I went with Mama instead, but I guess I'll give it a shot, not because of Arnie, but because I think the director is truly talented. Brilliant review as usual. :)

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Glad you liked it dude, agree about Arnold displaying a level of humanity none seen in the past, there's a kind of humility that wisdom and old age brings to a person that Arnold shows a bit of on this one.

I wonder how this film is doing in ticket sales worldwide, if could make its budget back if its big in other countries.

Maynard Morrissey said...

Very excited for this. As you can guess, I've always been a huge Arnie-fan. Trailer looks cool and the posters are badass. Starts here in Austria next week, woot!!

venoms5 said...

@ George: To give you an idea of how out of the loop I am on new movies, I didn't even know what MAMA was till I skimmed your review, George! I must say I liked THE LAST STAND more than I expected to. I had a great time with this. Hopefully I can see it again before it is gone from theaters.

@ Fran: We'll know soon enough how well it's done overseas. I guess America just isn't interested in him anymore like they were. Even his recently released autobiography tanked, and I was told it was an excellent read.

@ Harry: I had the entire theater to myself, Harry. It was a great time and easily the most fun I'd had in a theater in a looooong time. I hope you enjoy it!

Twang Zombie said...

Its a boring movie, with few laughs and good shootout, stupid bad guy and unnecessary Peter Stormare. The bigests plus is the western style. Walking Tall is much better.

Arnold is so stiff. It could be just me, but I felt that they were cutting him out too fast to hide his stiffness.

Maynard Morrissey said...

Weird, I thought Austrian would rush to the theaters, but believe it or not... I almost had the entire theater for myself too. There were 5 or 6 guys, one black chick and me - but I can you assure, we all highly enjoyed it!

It's a really fantastic oldschool action fest, I had a blast! Fully agree with you, Arnie's performance is stunning, and the rest of the cast is also awesome, especially Guzman and Whitaker.

Highlights: the 'race' in the corn, the arrivong of the schoolbus amd the epic fistfight-climax.

8,5/10 :)

venoms5 said...

@ TZ: This one hit me just right, I guess. I liked everything about it. Sadly, it didn't do very well anywhere. Stallone's newest has bombed just as badly, too.

The original WALKING TALL is a supreme classic. If you're referring to the newer one, I couldn't even finish that one.

venoms5 said...

@ Harry: I had a really good time with this. I hadn't enjoyed a theatrical movie this much in a long time. It's a definite purchase for me when it hits DVD.

Stallone's newest movie bombed badly this weekend as well. It looks like people may be tired of seeing old men in leading roles after all.

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