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MANILA, Philippines - Amidst the flurry of big releases coming at us this January, there’s the risk that "The Last Stand" might get overlooked.
It’s a much smaller movie than Arnold Schwarzenegger used to star in (his last big vehicle was "Terminator 3"); the Governator’s not exactly the strongest draw for today’s moviegoing crowd (heck, a lot of young viewers hardly even know who he is anymore); and it doesn’t seem like something particularly new or interesting.
Yet I think that this a movie that action fans have to go out and see. For the rest of the movie-viewing world, especially those who couldn’t care less for action flicks, this is a snooze, something best passed over.
But for those who want to see how a good action flick is made, without CGI, without big budget effects, but with good directing, good action set-pieces, and a good serving of excitement, then you do not want to miss this.
I was told by friends that Korean director Jee-woon Kim is a remarkable filmmaker. And after having watched this, I now want to go into his back catalog and watch all the movies he has made.
He has a superb sense of timing and storytelling. This isn’t a movie that strings together big explosions and massive action set-pieces. Rather, it allows things to build to fever pitch, then unleashes big sequences that leave us jaws agape.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Ray is sheriff of a quiet border town. Most of the town’s population has headed off for a football game. This leaves some people at the diner, mostly elderly, the detectives, and Ray who is supposed to be enjoying his day off. (I love the “day off” trope here, and though Schwarzenegger doesn’t play it enough for its humor, it has its charm.)
Charming too is his raggedy band of deputies and a gun nut played by Johnny Knoxville. Much like the leading man, Knoxville seems to be playing himself, but that all works out.
This isn’t a flick that demands too much of the acting, but rather asks that the actors provide us with some interesting character. And that Knoxville can do much of. He plays off Luis Guzman well, and on the whole the ensemble of deputies and deputized make for a good amount of comic relief.
It is well-balanced, because although many action movies attempt to incorporate humor, those movies have problems with consistency of tone. Not so here.
It is probably because of how grave the threat is here. I can’t help but point out the old action trope too of people with foreign accents being bad guys. Interesting though that you’ve got 3 foreign-accented characters meeting to fight on the border town. You have Ray, and then the two villains, cartel Kingpin Gabriel Cortez played by Eduardo Noriega, and the slimy over the top bad guy played by Peter Stormare.
Cortez is driving a cutting edge car over the border. Yeah, it’s the kind of crazy action villain behavior that you would never find in, say, a Micheal Mann film, but it fits in perfectly for a movie like this. He has just escaped from the FBI and he wants to make a show of his escape, much to the consternation of G-Man Forest Whitaker. Cortez has contracted Stormare’s Burrell to assist him. Meanwhile, Whitaker’s Agent Bannister calls on Ray, whom he dismisses as a Country bumpkin, to stop Cortez from crossing the border.
The story could be seen as cliche. But with the way that it is reworked, it’s clear that there is an attempt to breathe life back into the waning Western genre.
We’ve got the Sheriff, who is the last line of defense against an outlaw. We’re at the frontier and there’s no one but the Sheriff and his men to do right. Bad men are in town and it’s up to them to protect their home from those who have no respect for their home, for laws, for other people.
And of course, where does Cortez have to inevitably pass, but Main Street? They threw in some shooters on the rooftops. All this lacked was the rustle of tumbleweeds and Schwarzenegger rocking a Stetson.
Once all the pieces are in place, we get a steady building of tension. It goes for the pacing of an old Western, and I could not help thinking back to movies like "High Noon" or "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," because of the way that this takes its time, developing characters, letting the gravity of things settle in our minds before letting the sparks fly.
Watch the trailer here:
Again, this isn’t contemporary Hollywood action that feels the need for bombast and for one scene after another. It also avoids the shaky-cam approach, instead often cutting between close shots and long, sweeping crane shots that give us a wonderful sense of space.
Take note most of all how efficiently the last confrontation goes down, how with minimal camera movements we are plunged into the intensity of the fight. The gunfights are shot with a similar sense of space and efficiency.
This is not a movie that will be memorable. Not an achievement that will get accolades.
What it is though is a damn fun action thrill ride. It’s got great action sequences, a good sense of humor, and a charm to it. - Rappler.com
(Carljoe Javier doesn't know why people think he's a snarky film critic who spends his time dashing the hopes of filmgoers. He thinks he's not all that bad, really. He teaches at the State U, writes books, and studies film, comics, and video games...Then again, those people could be right.)
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