Wednesday 5 August 2015


(Walter Hill, 1996)

Early in his career, Hill was great at balancing genre pictures on the line right between arty abstraction and pulp detail. When he tries the same thing here, he miscalculates somewhat, meaning that Last Man Standing is a one-note trudge through the story of "Red Harvest" (actually credited as a remake of Yojimbo). The arty abstraction doesn't feel arty or interesting, the way it did in his classics two decades prior (The Warriors or Southern Comfort, say).
Instead this just feels like purest pulp, with Hill struggling to infuse it with some sort of poetry. That works to some extent in his film-making. Lloyd Ahern's beautiful dust-and-sunlight coppery photography and Ry Cooder's score are distinctively toned and make the film always worth watching and listening to. The action sequences are thunderous and cartoonish, with awesomely loud fusillades of gunfire filling the soundtrack while bodies tumble in slow motion through the air.
But the script is less successful. Bruce Willis is minimalist and cool as John Smith, a gunman trying to work both sides against each other in a prohibition-era Texan border town, but his hard-boiled narration is leaden and dull, and the tough guy dialogue feels rote and second-hand, without any sparkle or wit, so that he feels a bit like a strong star performance without a strong film around him, or even a strong character to play. In the past, Hill has dealt - well - with archetypes, but here he is dealing with sketches, and the difference is telling.
Other good actors - like Christopher Walken and David Patrick Kelly - enliven things as twitchy gangsters, but for all it's action and incident, Last Man Standing never really takes off. It's minor Hill, and while that means it's still worth a watch, it's frustrating seeing such a master in such a low gear.

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