I know many of you would be thinking that I went to see “The Last Stand” because it marks the return of action superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen (in the lead role) since “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines“. That would only be partially true. I went to see this film because it marked the debut of Korean director Kim Ji-Woon as a director in an American production. Most Asian directors often don’t really make it that big in Hollywood; aside from action scribe John Woo, the Pang bros. never did make it in American horror, Takashi Shimizu and Ryuhei Kitamura had mixed successes.
Well, Kim Ji-Woon had created amazing films in Korea and garnered critical international acclaim with the likes of “A Tale of Two Sisters”, “I Saw the Devil”, “The Good the Bad the Weird” and “A Bittersweet Life”. (I reviewed all his movies here and gave them high marks). I see him as one of the most versatile directors alive today and with “The Last Stand”, Kim once again proves that he is one talented director.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, a small-town sheriff who has resigned himself into a small sleepy town called Sommerton after what he had gone through as a crack LAPD cop during his younger years. It is a quiet town and most of the folk are friendly, minor issues abound and the job is without complications. This is just the way Ray likes it. But when a drug cartel leader makes a spectacular escape and is now driving a modified Corvette ZR1 towards Mexico, with Sommerton set as his means to cross the border, Ray finds himself digging deep to try to stop him. It is a good thing that Ray has some help; his deputies (made up of Jaime Alexander, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzman and Zach Gilford) are all willing to help, with a little something provided by Lewis (Johnny Knoxville), they may just have a chance.
The plot of “The Last Stand” is pretty simple and standard for action flicks that used to flood the multiplexes back in the 80’s and the early 90’s. It is a standard good guys and bad guys kind of flick with the stakes well defined to generate a feeling of anticipation for the final encounter. The screenplay by Andrew Knauer isn’t exactly reaching for anything special, and he keeps things grounded to move the film along. What the film does well is the way it plays on its characters to charm the viewer into becoming invested in the film. It succeeds, thanks to Kim’s hand in timing and good directorial savvy. The characters are what you can see as ‘nothing special’, and yet, they are amiable, it also helps that the cast were able to form their sense of personalities to form a chemistry between them.
I know it would be easy to see Arnold to play the ‘old man’ and he does. Schwarzenegger is one charismatic actor despite his limits in the acting department, and he knows how to pick his roles. Here, the script makes use of several witty one-liners to make Ray one likeable guy and yet someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. Mild touches of humor gave the film a lot of showmanship and I found it easy to like the characters. His deputies share some kind of bond that works, while I did not particularly care for the romantic subplot between Sarah and Frank, it worked in some ways to connect the workings of the town. It is a small town, and everyone seems to know one another, and most of these exchanges seem to revolve around a diner and Ray’s sheriff’s department. The script was able to identify the simplicities of a small town, its townsfolk and just what was at stake when a drug lord comes driving in. It is a disruption of quiet living of sorts.
The bad guys do well in making themselves, well, bad. Peter Stormare’s Burrell may feel like a throwback to the 90’s action movies with his old-fashioned six-shooter and cowboy attitude but I liked how the character played more to its strengths than its weaknesses. The gun fights in town and at the farm had him in the spotlight; the actor just sold the ‘western showdown’ atmosphere because of the way he sold his character. Burrell had more screen time and admittedly had more action scenes than Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), but Noriega was good as the expert driver who also is one rich crime lord. The FBI agents played by Forest Whitaker, Daniel Henney and alluring Genesis Rodriguez were stereotypes, but they did not hamper the film’s momentum at all.
Kim Ji-Woon was excellent in the manipulation of the action sequences. The cinematography was very appealing and he keeps his shots on point. Kim always had a knack for shooting gritty action and in this film, he uses wide shots and close ups to generate the emotions of the sequences. There were several scenes that just made the action pop, the helicopter pursuing the ZR1, the chase in the cornfield and the gun fight in town were all meant to give entertainment and to make one forget the simplistic workings of its plot. Kim also does not hold back with some CGI blood, the effects were meant to express the drama in the fights and made for some gritty showmanship. Curiously, explosions were used at a minimum, but the film had a lot of gunfire, which made the film feel a little restrained to balance along its simple plot.
“The Last Stand” may not be prove to be an explosive, slam-bang, triumphant return to action by Schwarzenegger but in a way it worked as Ray definitively says “Old”. I saw the film as a simple action flick and Kim’s direction was disciplined enough to express such simplicity. There are also some machismo going around and I just cracked up when Ray says “you fucked up my day off”. It is what Arnold had been known for back in the days of “Commando” and “Raw Deal“, and “The Last Stand” worked. Kim and Arnold combined to create a highly entertaining action flick; it was clever, fun and action-packed. I also enjoyed the “town” itself becoming a character. Yeah, this film delivered but just not as much as some may have hoped for, it is also Kim Ji-Woon‘s weakest film to date. But hey, it is A-nuld’s film after all. What, you were expecting Arnold’s solo return in another sequel of The Terminator or Predator? You know that would be just too predictable and old.
Arnold Schwarzenegger. Love his joyfully entertaining movies, think he's a talentless slug, consider him a legend of action movie cinema or hate him for his personal life turmoil and politics-the man deserved better then to have his return to the silver screen shelved till the January dead hours and then have it turn in a loss. Especially when it's not half bad. Arnold now officially in his twilight years of acting wasn't going to come back roaring … more
I know I can’t be the first person to associate Kim Jee-Woon’s amazingly tepid THE LAST STAND with late 80’s / early 90’s action cinema, can I? This flick feels like it must’ve gathered dust for at least three decades without anyone so much as picking it up and offering a simple rewrite. Why Arnold Schwarzenegger would choose this project as his ‘comeback from retirement’ picture is a complete loss to me unless he wanted to remind … more
Dusty town Sheriff makes a stand in his border town against an escaped Cartel bigshot who has a small army of men planning his escape into Mexico. Great to see Arnold back on screen even if the movie isn't anything too special. It is at least better then his later 90's faire.