Last Man Standing
Review by Eric 'Renderking' Fisk | November 2002
Back in the early years of my obsession with all things WW2 era (big band, history, art, and films), there was one television show that provided a brief interlude once a week. “Moonlighting” starring Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd as David Addison and Mattie Hayes was a phenomenal hit and put the two co-stars on the celestial charts of Hollywood. It brought back good powerful writing into fashion. The on-screen relationship between Willis and Shepherd is similar to that of William Powell and Merna Loy of the Thin Man series back in the 30’s and 40’s.
Word was that the reason why there weren’t as many episodes each season, as with other series, were the hefty scripts which were full of witty dialog and plot twists. Yea… this show did have heft and plot; more so than some of the other movies released the years “Moonlighting” was on the air.
One of my favorite episodes was a great “What if”. Mattie and David pondered what really happened in an unsolved case from the 1940’s. Willis and Shepherd played the parts of the couple involved. Shepherd was a night club singer, Willis a Philip Marlow type hard-boiled detective.
While it was by far one of the best episodes of the season, I was praying to the false gods of Hollywood’s divine intervention that somehow the rating for that episode would go through the roof and the rest of the series would be in black and white, set in 1940’s Los Angeles.
What impressed me about the Philip Marlow-esqe episode of “Moonlighting” was Willis’ timeless performance. The man he portrayed in that black and white episode was similar to the one he portrayed every other week, with the exception of being cooler and withdrawn. It’s a subtlety I doubt many other actors, with the exception of Harrison Ford, could pull off.
I hoped that someday we would see a motion picture along the same line of that episode, or, once Moonlighting was over, a series similar to that episode would be made. While that series never materialized, Stacey Keach played a modern fedora-wearing detective on CBS’s “Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer” in the late 80’s and Powers Boothe played Phillip Marlow on HBO around the same time. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my wish of seeing Willis in a similar adventure to that “Moonlighting” Episode came true.
The First Real Samurai Gangster Western?
It was more than a decade later. A friend of mine was surprised to see that out of the few DVD’s I owned already I had already bought “The Untouchables” and yet I didn’t have “Last Man Standing”. To be honest, I had yet to see it since I heard it received poor reviews, which is odd… since I usually avoid reading reviews when I like the premise of a film and the way the trailers look. Many times, I’ve disagreed with critics. Some of the most critically acclaimed movies are ones that nearly put me to sleep: “Portrait of a Lady” comes to mind.
I bought the Last Man Standing DVD on a cold Saturday night while desperately looking for something from my favorite era. It was a night that I was desperate for atmosphere, flawed heroes in suits and fedoras with loud guns… good men doing right by stopping bad men trying to do wrong… and this movie fits the bill, almost exactly!
Willis plays the part of a man, a drifter with a shadowy past during prohibition. John Smith (Willis ) arrives at a town, broke, down to his last dollar and just finishes his last swallow of whiskey. Learning that there are two rival gangs in this town he quickly learns the player's names and rules and plays both sides for the most dollars. Along the way, he picks up only two allies: the sheriff, Ed Galt played by Bruce Dern and “Newhart” alumni William Sanderson ... as Joe Monday the saloon and innkeeper, (Sanderson seems to play the same parts from “Lonesome Dove” miniseries and “Blade Runner”…)
Willis’ character really has only a few redeeming qualities. He is perhaps one of the best two-fisted shot I’ve seen on screen in recent memory, he has a soft spot for women in distress (the reason why it seems, that he always ends up broke)...
Last Man Standing is supposed to be a remake of Akira Kurosawa's samurai classic “Yojimbo”, which I can only assume is correct because I’ve never seen it... But what I can say is that there are times when I’ve watched this I’ve thought that maybe the makers of this film had more “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” (but without any treasure) in mind. That's either ironic, coincidence or , since George Lucas has said on countless occasions on how Kurosawa inspired him in the past (If anything, Star Wars- Episode IV: A New Hope is a remake of Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress”.)
There are a few another standout performances besides those previously mentioned. Christopher Walken as the henchman Hickey , again… another Indiana Jones wanna-be (Walken was considered for the role of a brash swashbuckler pilot in the Lucas remake of the aforementioned “Hidden Fortress”). Regardless that his character is perhaps creepy enough to rival Anthony Hopkins most famous roll, you can’t help but want to root for a guy who’s attire closely matches that one of our favorite heroes.
Basically, what is “Last Man Standing”? It’s hardly a morality tale. Smith leaves town a bit more broke and battered but has the satisfaction of doing some good. Smith does a great job of cleaning up the town while in the process of wrecking a quarter of it... “Last Man Standing” is either a western or a gangster movie… or a gangster movie filmed on location of a Western movie… perhaps left-overs from “The Quick and The Dead” starring Sharon Stone which I believe was filmed around the same time.
If anything, the movie can be best described as one long "Raven bar fight," from "Raiders Of The Lost Ark..." right down to the shootout at the burning building out in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps my wife did say it best when she said “ “Last Man Standing” really isn’t much of a movie: "It’s a man in a perfectly blocked fedora shooting people endlessly.”
For fans of the movies made by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, "Lat Man Standing" is good enough to hold us over through one more cold Saturday night when we’re craving some atmosphere, men in suits and fedoras, and loud guns. This is also a great movie for fans of Film Noir since this fits most of the criteria of what makes a film fit that genre, and there is substance to be found if you are able to look past the over-the-top violence and gratuitous sex and language... And yes... Willis is a fedora-clad hero throughout the whole movie, even when all else is taken from him and all hope is lost, he at least has that left when he drives off into the sunset.