Posted by: playingthedevil | September 30, 2011

last man standing (1996)

in yet another reiteration of yojimbo and a fistful of dollars comes last man standing, all of which are based on dashiell hammett’s 1929 novel red harvest.  the first film adaptation is 1930’s roadhouse blues, which sounds like it should be a steven seagal movie, then there’s the coen brothers’ miller’s crossing, which is inspired by red harvest and another hammett novel the glass key, then there’s the BRUCE co-starring movie lucky number slevin in 2006, and more recently, the miike eastern/western sukiyaki western django.

in addition to the source material and BRUCE, last man standing is directed by walter hill.  it’s his last of three western in a row, after geronimo and wild bill, to be released in theatres.  (he later directed the well received tv mini-series broken trail and an episode of tv’s deadwood).

with such pedigrees, last man standing has all the ingredients for a manly ass-kicking movie.  it could cause quite a high expectation.  though i remember it got pretty bad reviews when it came out and did pretty bad at the box office: it was beaten by the first wives club opening weekend and dropped 50% the next weekend, which seems like a pretty modest second week drop nowadays.

like the other interpretations, last man standing is about a mysterious man who passes by a bordertown and gets involve with the town’s two warring gangs.  being in the middle, he decides to play against both sides to maximize profit while he saves a few women and shoots a lot more men.

unlike the other ones though, last man standing takes place during the prohibition era.  though a specific year is not mentioned, they have cars instead of horses.  it is still nevertheless a western.  instead of the man with no name, BRUCE has more lines and a more playful attitude.  instead of the traditional western gun fights, the action scenes are updated to a john woo/hong kong bullet ballet style.  instead of saving a woman and child, BRUCE gets to save three women, one of which is the town prostitute played by mrs. judd apatow.  he also gets interrupted twice while naked, once during sex and once during a bath.

the coffin builder is not as crucial an element in last man standing (BRUCE just passes by the front window, they don’t have any conversations or scenes together).  he also claims his name is john smith.  there’s also voice over narration throughout the movie by BRUCE that makes it a noir-western combo.

this is another one of hill’s spin on the traditional western.  instead of the meditative mode in wild bill, last man standing is more of an action movie.  it looks pretty good most of the time.  early on we’re told that the two gangs scared away all the townsfolk.  so i don’t know how the prostitue and the gangs make money, or where they are planning on selling the liquor the stole since the bar’s only customer seems to be BRUCE.  though he does his part of the drinking. this is the era before mass media, so i don’t think they make money through shipping and handling like infomercials or amazon sellers.

in almost every BRUCE movie, there’s always a moment right after the shootouts where BRUCE gives a look, as if he could not believe what had just happened, or how he managed to kill the bad guys.  it’s partially the wrong-guy-at-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time element.  similar to jackie chan showing pain in between fight scenes.  it kind of sets them apart from the machine-like action heroes.

there’s some of that here but there is never really any doubt that BRUCE will kill every person in the room, so you don’t feel any sense of danger for him.  they all start with some tough talks, then invincible BRUCE unloads his two guns with infinite ammos, bad guys die, BRUCE never get shot. there’s a somewhat unique first person shooter-ish pov gunfight near the end.

BRUCE get some great lines mostly with the women and about liquor. christohper walken plays the reputed right hand man of one of gang leader and when he finally shows up, he doesn’t disappoint. he doesn’t do the usual almost self-parody walken speak (as i later witness in gigli). he and BRUCE seem to be in a contest to see who can talk the lowest.

i wasn’t really bored by it but the action scenes come at short bursts.  i was kind of expecting a little bit more energy and surprises. at least they are not hyper-edited like most recent action movies. most of the film seems to coast along relying solely on BRUCE’s star power and screen presence. it is rather successful in that respect, which is no small task. BRUCE is in pretty much every scene and he single-handed (with dual pistol) manages to elevate the movie from mediocre to pretty good.

p.s. they spelled john mcclane’s name wrong in the BRUCE filmography special feature on the dvd.  john fucking mcclane.

last man standing is available from my dvd collection and netflix instant.





3/4 for BRUCE fans like me
2.5/4 for everyone else


  1. “he and BRUCE seem to be in a contest to see who can talk the lowest.”

    Lol, that’s pretty true.

    As far as not knowing how the gangsters and prostitutes make money, I think it can be explained by the surrealist nature of the movie. Like you said, a specific year isn’t mentioned. I’d say it goes farther than that, and doesn’t really depict a real place, only the essence of a place. It’s a very odd movie, but I really dig it. The fights are ridiculous, especially the first time he shoots that guy with a handgun and he flies across the street. Still, good stuff.

  2. Haven’t seen this one since it debuted on VHS back in the day. Don’t remember if I dug it or not. May have to give it another go. I’m up for almost anything in Walter Hill’s library.

  3. This is one of my favorite Bruce movies. Criminally underrated if you ask me. About the shortness of the action: I dug it. To me, Bruce in this movie was a force of nature. An exterminating angel. In fact, you can look at the town as Purgatory (which makes sense cause it’s filled with whores and killers) and Bruce is guiding people into the light.

  4. i do like the action scenes, and bruce saves the non-action parts. i guess after hearing so much about how it was inspired by hong kong action movies (which explains the people flying backward after one shot), i was expecting some insane long gunfights, especially since walter hill is involved.

    it’s kind of an interesting movie. i like it when i was watching it but it wasn’t until after it’s over and thinking about it later that it feels a bit empty. i think i did read your review but i don’t think i love it as much as mitch did. i do like the surrealistic take and the purgatory view. didn’t think about it that way.

    i’ve been wanting to write about this since die hard month, and i saw red heat for the first time a month ago. it was pretty fun in a cheesy way. i wanted to review the driver when drive came out but i never got around to it. trespass seems pretty interesting too.

    even when he’s not entirely successful, there are always interesting elements in his movies. and i haven’t seen a boring walter hill movie yet.

  5. Thanks for posting the link to my review! I think you’ll have a lot of fun with Trespass. Bill Paxton and William Sadler are a great team in that. I second your love for all things Walter Hill, although I will say that I found The Long Riders to be dull in spots. I’m looking forward to Hill’s new flick with Sly next year.

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