Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Last Man Standing (1996)

I own three different versions of Yojimbo on DVD, but ironically none of them are actually Yojimbo.  The first is A Fistful of Dollars, which I reviewed on this blog in May last year.  The second is The Warrior and the Sorceress, which is a gloriously trashy bit of 80s nonsense that I watched before starting the blog, but which may well turn up as a weekend review here one day.  The third, as you've probably deduced, is this movie.

I'm not going to spend much time on a plot summary here.  It's Yojimbo.  A dangerous drifter comes to a town where two warring gangs have all but destroyed the community, and begins to play the two groups off against each other.  The only thing that really changes between different versions of the tale - other than the drifter's chosen weapon and the quality of the film, of course - is the protagonist's motivations for getting involved.

Last Man Standing was a critical and commercial flop, which I think is a shame, particularly since I find many of the critical complaints to be dubious, at best.  The film has a consciously noir aesthetic, and is set in the prohibition era, so complaining that it has an 'oppressive' atmosphere seems to be missing the point just a little.  I mean sure, such an atmosphere might not be to all tastes - and if you're not interested in a fairly bleak setting and a morally grey protagonist, you're not likely to like this film - but complaining that the film achieves something it clearly intends to achieve is odd, you know?

There are problems with the film, of course.  The absence of female characters as anything other than sexual objects, for instance.  Yojimbo has always been a male-dominated narrative, but this film goes further in that direction.  I liked Alexandra Powers performance in her role, for instance, but I wish she'd been given something more to do than be a victim of the men around her.

But let's talk about the positives of the film for a while, and the two main reasons you should see it.

The first is that the cast is excellent.  Reviews complained about Willis's performance being 'flat', but again I think this is quite deliberate evocation of Clint Eastwood's stoic "Man With No Name".  Regardless of that, however, you've got Bruce Dern, Christopher Walken, William Sanderson and David Patrick Kelly all turning in their usual strong performances.

The second is that the film has a strong visual aesthetic - which is hardly surprising in a Walter Hill movie.  Stylistically, it calls back to Sergio Leone's version of the story, and that is no bad thing.

So basically, if you're in the mood for an action film and don't mind one that's a bit more bleak than the average - a bit like "The Godfather gone Western" - then this could be the film for you.

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