The Last Stand (2013) – Directed by Kim Jee-woon – Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Génesis Rodríguez, and Harry Dean Stanton.
I don’t remember the writer or even the movies he was talking about, but somewhere back 15 years ago or so, I remember reading a review of a movie where the writer talked about how the film would have been cast differently if it had been an HBO movie or a network movie instead of a big budget film. It was the first time I really thought about the different strata of actors and how the same film could and would be made differently depending on where it was destined to be viewed.
I mention this because I reviewed Getaway the other night and I wanted to take a look at a similar film in a different level. Maybe something like Death Race would have been a better comparison, given the car theme, but I’ve already reviewed that movie.
That led me to THE LAST STAND. I’ve seen the movie before but didn’t review it because it was one of those movies of which I was in search of something to say beyond, “Hey, it’s really pretty good.” It’s a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger where lots and lots of bullets kill lots and lots of people and we learn that Jaimie Alexander is hot even when she’s not dressed as an Asgardian and that Johnny Knoxville can be both annoying and effectively used.
Compared to, say, Thor: The Dark World, THE LAST STAND is a low-budget, low-risk film. Where Dark World reportedly cost $170 million to make, LAST STAND was made for a relatively paltry $30 million. Getaway takes us down another level, with an $18 million budget. What $140 million extra gets you is a never-ending special effects orgy, but that film’s goals are so far away from our two action films, let’s concentrate on what the extra $12 million gets you.
Right on top of the title, it gets you Arnold Schwarzenegger over Ethan Hawke. Now, I have no idea what these two actors are pulling in for their work, but Schwarzenegger has spent time as the biggest box office draw in the land, and Hawke hasn’t. Neither of these actors are huge box office draws right now, though it’s safe to think both of them have big enough names to at least get a bunch of people to hit “play” on their Netflix. What separates the two is that Arnold’s star power allows the filmmakers to craft a movie around him, whereas Hawke is just a guy playing a role. We are living in the Rust Age of action stars, as all those hyper-masculine men who ruled the 1980s Golden Age of Action Movies are now north of fifty: Van-Damme is 53, Lundgren is 56, Willis is 58, Seagal is 61, Russell is 62, Schwarzenegger is 66, Stallone is 67, Ford is 71, and Eastwood is 83.
Most of those men have worked steadily since the ’80s, but Arnold is a notable exception. Eschewing acting for politics, he spent eight years as the Governor of California. THE LAST STAND is his first starring role since leaving office, and there’s a gap nearly as big as California between this film and his last pre-Governor starring role in Terminator 3, as T3’s budget is nearly equal to that of The Dark World.
Next comes the sidekicks: Getaway has Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, and a Shelby Super Snake Mustang. LAST STAND has Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Génesis Rodríguez, and Harry Dean Stanton. Which is to say, it can populate your screen with lots of actors you recognize from other films. Heck, LAST STAND has a Corvette ZR-1, but it’s just a car in this movie, whereas Getaway makes the Mustang a much more integral part of the movie.
This plethora of faces doesn’t automatically make LAST STAND a better movie, of course, but it does allow the film to keep tossing up new things for you to look at and it does allow for additional characters to help carry the story. While Arnold is the unquestioned star, and sits in the unquestioned center, of LAST STAND, everyone else is here for a reason and here to help alleviate some of Arnold’s heavy lifting. Stallone has attempted to revive his career by mining the past; in his films, there’s an acknowledgment that he’s aging, but there’s also a stubborn reluctance to let go of his physicality. In LAST STAND, Arnold’s age and diminished physicality are a part of the story. There’s a tiredness to his performance that the film uses to its advantage. Where Eastwood has turned philosophical, where Stallone clings to his glory, where Willis has gone minimalist, Schwarzenegger’s Sheriff Ray Owens is comfortable with his decline and is willing to ask for help, going so far as to deputize Johnny Knoxville because Knoxville’s Lewis Dinkum has weapons that can help Owens even the score with the approaching bad guys.
Twelve million dollars also apparently buys you bad guys. Where Getaway has close-ups of Voight’s mouth, LAST STAND gives us both Peter Stormare’s enthusiastic henchman and Eduardo Noriego as a crime lord who spends the bulk of this dilm driving the Vette. There’s also enough money to pay for Forest Whitaker to play a third wheel FBI agent and, most importantly, to go get an acclaimed director.
Kim Jee-woon’s direction is everything you could want in an action movie: he gets the right performances from all his actors, his camera is always in either the right place or the stylistic place, and his action scenes provide a good amount of thrills. And while I wouldn’t argue that LAST STAND has the depth of characterizations equal to Avengers, let alone Hamlet, Kim does seem genuinely interested in characters. Every character here has an actual role to play, and most of them have (however small) an arc, so when you get to the end of the movie, there isn’t just a feeling that the characters have managed to not get shot, but that they’ve actually been through an experience. They’re changed on the other side of what happens, and that’s a good thing.
THE LAST STAND doesn’t reinvent the wheel or demonstrate that old dogs can learn new tricks. It does, however, show that old dogs get old, and while the spirit is willing, the flesh isn’t what it once was. There’s something touching about Schwarzenegger’s performance in this movie. Usually, when characters make mention of their advancing age, the film wants to show that they can still get the job done. Maybe they can’t do 100 push-ups anymore, but they can do 95. Not Ray Owens. He doesn’t want to do any push-ups anymore, but he’ll do as many as he can if the situation calls for it.
The best scene in this vein comes early on, when a waitress calls him pre-sunrise, waking him up to let him know the milk hasn’t been delivered. Owens looks tired and old and resigned to the fact that sometimes being sheriff means you’re gonna get woken up at 4 in the morning because the milk isn’t delivered.
When the waitress makes her case why it matters that the milk hasn’t arrived, Owens is apologetic, assuring the young woman that she’s done “the right thing.” That idea of doing “the right thing” is what Owens spends the film doing as best he can. The takeaway of LAST STAND is that one doesn’t need to turn philosophical or cling to their hyper-masculinity to be a man – he just has to do the right thing.