Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Last Man Standing is an action western film released in 1996 and is a remake of the 1961 Japanese film Yojimbo directed by Akira Kurosawa. Directed by Walter Hill, the film depicts a remote town in Prohibition-era Texas taken over by two rival gangs and a dangerous criminal who plays both sides against each other. The film stars Bruce Willis, Christopher Walker, David Patrick Kelly, William Sanderson, Alexandra Powers and Bruce Dern. Kurosawa gave his permission for Hill to remake his film, providing that it wasn't a western as A Fistful Of Dollars was already an uncredited remake. Hill then decided to make the film as a hard-boiled film noir set during Prohibition but the film was a critical flop when it was released. It also bombed with audiences with global takings of just $47.2 million, failing to recoup its budget.
What's it about?
In the small, dusty Texan border town of Jericho in 1930, a lone wanderer drives into town looking to lay down and hide from the law. He spots a beautiful woman cross the street and incurs the wrath of her gangster escorts who warn him not to mess with Mr Doyle and smash up his Ford Model A. With no money to repair his car and now stranded in Jericho, the man introduces himself as 'John Smith' to the town's sheriff who doesn't want to get involved in his dispute. Resigned, Smith heads over to the hotel and books himself a room with the hotel's owner Joe Monday.
Being a man of violence himself, Smith quickly arms himself and heads over to Doyle's headquarters and shoots the man who wrecked his car. This attracts the attention of Jericho's other gang led by Italian American Fredo Strozzi who is engaged in a bitter rivalry with the Irish American Doyle family. After being offered a job by Strozzi, Smith senses an opportunity to make some quick money playing one side off against the other and soon finds himself neck-deep in trouble - especially when Doyle's psychotic henchman Hickey begins to interfere with Smith's plans...
Sheriff Ed Galt
David Patrick Kelly
Release Date (UK)
27th September, 1996
15 (2008 re-rating)
Action, Crime, Drama, Western
What's to like?
As a seasoned fan of action films, I can appreciate several things about Last Man Standing which might not be immediately obvious to some viewers. Conceptually, the film is a bit of a mess but it looks first class - the cinematography has a warm glow to it, making the picture feel like a sepia photograph come to life and you can feel the heat and the dust kicked up through the screen from this dusty corner of nowhere. And the action scenes (of which there are many) feel brutal and satisfying with loud gunfights that wouldn't be out of place in one of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. It certainly feels like a spaghetti western and less of a gangster film, despite the pinstripe suits, tommy guns and vintage vehicles on display.
Already an icon of action cinema thanks to his career-defining work in Die Hard, Willis delivers in the action scenes with controlled assurance. Walken snarls as the towering Hickey and actually feels like a decent foil for Willis despite the obvious age difference. And the script, which sticks perhaps a little too closely to the original for my liking, is a good one as well - it certainly feels very noir-ish in its atmosphere and presentation and as someone with an appreciation of classic noir films like The Maltese Falcon, it floats my boat somewhat.
- Although the film acknowledges the inspiration of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, the Japanese original was actually based on the 1927 novel 'Red Harvest' by Dashiell Hammett. Hill himself considered Last Man Standing a free adaptation rather than a remake because he thought the idea of remaking a Kurosawa film was "insanity, for obvious reasons".
- Hill's original cut for the film was over two hours long. After cutting some scenes for the finished movie, he then used the unused footage and alternate takes to help produce the trailer.
- This film was one of three blockbuster films that indie-favourites New Line Cinema released in 1996 along with The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Island Of Dr Moreau. Sadly, all three of these films tanked at the box office although The Long Kiss Goodnight would be a cult favourite over the years.
What's not to like?
However pretty it may be, Last Man Standing is not a great film and for several reasons. Willis' drifter may well act similar to John McClane but he sorely lacks the personality of the saviour of Nakatomi Plaza, mumbling through the movie with a disinterested, monotone delivery and dialogue that feels recycled from a dozen forgotten screenplays. Smith isn't even especially likeable as a character, he's just less repugnant than the rest of the principal players but that's another part of the film's problems. There isn't any reason to care about Jericho or the people in it, partly because it doesn't feel like an actual place (it's just extras from a gangster movie on a western set) and partly because the film doesn't bother investing any of its characters with any redeeming features.
Another problem is the film can't even produce a decent replication of Yojimbo's screenplay - with accents fairly indistinct, it's difficult to decipher who is supposed to be working for who so you're never sure what Smith himself is up to as the details get lost. A Fistful Of Dollars does a much better job of retelling the story and is by far the better film - Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name played the same part as Willis does in this film but became an iconic cinematic antihero who inspired countless imitations and helped define his career. No such luck for Last Man Standing which quickly disappeared into obscurity. Willis, Walken and Hill all have had better films than this.
Should I watch it?
This is no classic but for action junkies desperate for a quick fix, it'll do the job. But Last Man Standing feels a bit of a mess with an unsettling mix of styles, a forgettable lead and nothing of any real substance or quality to make it stand out from the crowd. A film like this needs something to lift it but unfortunately, this film isn't really anything special. You'll have seen dozens of films like this before and nothing you see here will particularly stay in your memory for long.
Great For: fans of generic shooters, forgiving action movie lovers
Not So Great For: enhancing careers, inspiring remakes... sorry, what film were we talking about?
What else should I watch?
Bruce Willis shone in films like the first three Die Hard films as well as Pulp Fiction, The Fifth Element and Sin City. Christopher Walken won an Oscar for his appearance in The Deer Hunter as well as improving the likes of Batman Returns, True Romance and cheesy Bond outing A View To A Kill. Walter Hill is a director of considerable experience with films like The Warriors, 48 Hrs and Southern Comfort - all of these films are better than Last Man Standing.
Frankly, it wasn't even the best spaghetti western of the Nineties. Robert Rodriguez propelled himself into the mainstream thanks to his amazing 1995 shoot-'em-up Desperado which made a mockery of its miniscule budget and made stars of its smouldering leading duo Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. Not only does it pack just as an effective punch in its action sequences but is also far more enjoyable thanks to its humour, memorable characters and spicy Latino flavourings compared to Last Man Standing and its vanilla nothingness.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox