Cinophile: LAST MAN STANDING

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From samurai to cowboys to prohibition gangsters – the double-cross never gets old.

This year marks half a century since Sergio Leone’s game-changing Western A Fistful of Dollars was released. It set a new course for the genre, one that many fought until The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – the third in Leone’s unofficial trilogy – set it in stone. By the time Once Upon A Time In The West (considered by many as the best Western ever) arrived a few years later, the apple pie bravado of the Western had made way for some true grit.

Movie geeks know that Dollars was an adaptation of Yojimbo, Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film about a loner Ronin entering a remote town and playing two rival gangs against each other. Much has been written about the cross-pollination between the samurai and western genres, but since Dollars they have truly been joined at the hip.

In the mid-Nineties Walter Hill set about adding to that mythology, this time taking in Prohibition as the stage for this infamous story. Bruce Willis is a man who goes by ‘John Smith’, continuing the tradition of a main character whose name we don’t know (hence Eastwood’s famous ‘man with no name’ characters from Leone’s trilogy). He arrives in a dusty town bordering Mexico, crawling with gangsters who use the route to smuggle alcohol into the U.S.

If you aren’t aware of Dollars‘ plot, the mercenary’s arrival in the town starts to destabilise a fragile truce between the gangs – one that both sides were planning to break anyway. Things get tougher as egos clash – in this case Christopher Walken and Michael Imperioli add flies to Willis’ ointment with each faction. Eventually our protagonist is the best thing in a bad situation that is sure to burn everything to the ground.

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There are some interesting differences between Yojimbo, Dollars and Last Man Standing, but they also share a lot. Last Man is a rendition of the Japanese movie, yet still has several elements lifted from Dollars. But while the previous two films had a meditative quality to them, Last Man is a more straight-forward snarling action-thriller, complete with the type of pistol-opera style Western studios briefly gagged for in the Nineties. You know – dual guns blazing while our hero lunges through the air.

The result was, for its time, a dour, humourless film that only lived to cynically cash in on film noir grit and John Woo fans. Critics hated it and viewers stayed away. It became the film Hill, Willis and everyone else don’t talk about.

But time has been kind to Last Man Standing. Today it is a fun throwback to 90s seriousness: fun to both watch a new version of two very famous movies and also see the great cast add life to a set of cardboard characters. It may be the black sheep of Yojimbo‘s family tree, but still one worth seeing.

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Last Man Standing is an adaptation of Yojimbo, Akira Kurosawa’s famous samurai movie. It also borrows elements from A Fistful of Dollars, also a remake of Kurosawa’s film.
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Director Walter Hill had other actors in mind for the role of Hickey, the right-hand man to one of the mob bosses and the antagonist of the film. But the studio insisted on Christopher Walken for the role. Bruce Willis was a shoo-in for the lead, though he and Hill never warmed to each other. Hill later remarked that Willis seemed tired of being stereotyped into such ‘silent but deadly’ action roles.
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The original cut of the film was over two hours long. It was reduced to 101 minutes, but much of the extra footage lived on in the trailers and DVD extras.
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Last Man Standing was a bomb, falling $20 million short of its budget. It added to a disastrous year for New Line Cinema, which also had big budget flops in The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Island of Dr. Moreau. It cost the most of the three and made the least.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: September 21, 2015

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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