Last Man Standing
Directed by Walter Hill. Starring Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Bruce Dern, David Patrick Kelly, William Sanderson, Karina Lombard. (1996, R, 101 min.)
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Sept. 27, 1996
With Last Man Standing, hit-and-miss action director Walter Hill completes a trilogy of narration-driven revisionist Westerns, a troika of films that includes 1993's historical epic Geronimo: An American Legend and last year's surreal, explosive drama Wild Bill, both of which gave thoughtful, intelligent makeovers to long-established Western legends. However, for his latest picture, Hill has instead drawn inspiration from Eastern lore, namely Akira Kurosawa's 1961 samurai classic Yojimbo, which has, of course, already been remade once before in the guise of Sergio Leone's magnificent Fistful of Dollars. While this new version obviously owes much to both these movies, and the basic story line remains unchanged, it's still pretty remarkable how Hill has managed to take the material and make it his own. In re-imagining Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima's vintage Japanese tale as a blood-soaked, Prohibition-era western, Hill has not only effortlessly transported the story to America, but has also found a means with which to explore his own pet themes and obsessions, setting it all against an electrifying backdrop of blazing action. This time out, it's Die Hard hero Bruce Willis starring as the mysterious high-priced mercenary “born without a conscience” who places himself in between a pair of rival gangs, who are, in this case, rival Irish and Italian bootleggers occupying a sleepy Texas border town. Bravely stepping into the mighty hard-to-fill shoes of Mifune and Eastwood, the charismatic Willis doesn't embarrass himself: He looks sharp in his suit and fedora, and perhaps more importantly, displays much panache while mowing down hordes of opponents with a pair of high-powered handguns. A colorful supporting cast ably follow his lead, delivering solid, if not groundbreaking work in their time-honored roles of gangster moll, chief heavy, femme-fatale, comic sidekick, and so on. As with all of his best work (remember Southern Comfort? The Warriors? The Driver?), Hill directs with equal amounts of energy and elegance, although some of his screenplay's hard-boiled dialogue (“She was just tryin' to make a living in a world where big fish eat little fish”) drifts dangerously close to camp. Nevertheless, despite a somewhat spotty career (I still count Another 48 HRS among my most unbearable moviegoing experiences), Walter Hill is one of the few filmmakers still interested in maintaining a distinctive vision within that most commercial of movie genres -- the American action film -- marking his work with cynical wit and a sense of cathartic fun, which now more than ever, offers a welcome change of pace from the jokey, mega-budgeted, special-effects spectacles that have come to dominate the market. From Lloyd Ahern's breathtaking, earth-toned cinematography to Freeman Davies' uncommonly graceful editing, Last Man Standing is a real class act, an old-fashioned thriller propelled by wildly violent, decidedly modern action sequences.