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Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison

LAST RAMPAGE: THE ESCAPE OF GARY TISON

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Cast: Robert Patrick, Alex MacNicoll, Heather Graham, Bruce Davison, Casey Thomas Brown, Skyy Moore, Chris Browning, William Shockley, Jason James Richter, John Heard

MPAA Rating: R (for some strong violence, and language throughout)

Running Time: 1:32

Release Date: 9/22/17 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 21, 2017

In 1978, Gary Tison and a fellow convicted murderer easily escaped from an Arizona state prison and went on a killing spree, aided and somewhat abetted by Tison's three sons. Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison provides a straightforward account of what happened, following Tison and his crew as they attempt to make their way to Mexico, as well as the law enforcement officials tracking down the gang and Tison's wife, who is convinced her husband is a good man—despite knowing that he's serving a life sentence in prison for killing a prison guard. We learn the details but not much else.

The movie rightly assumes that a general audience will not be familiar with Tison and his criminal exploits, since the case seems to have never made it beyond the local news—and definitely hasn't in the following decades. The screenplay by Alvaro Rodriguez and Jason Rosenblatt (based on Jason W. Clarke's book of the same name) takes advantage of this a bit by keeping mum on the extent of Tison's misdeeds and murderous potential. That is until he and his escape partner steal a family's car, drive them into the middle of nowhere, and shoot them multiple times with shotguns.

At that point, whatever we learn about the man doesn't matter much, but the movie still continues to give us the dirt on his past—the story of the guard's murder, another set of victims on the road to the border, a troubled past with a father whom he despised but, arguably, whom he became worse than. That's the attempt at a wounded heart here—not Tison's, of course, because, while the movie may keep us in the dark for a while about the man he is, it isn't blind to the extent of wickedness in him. No, the wounds belong to the sons, who love their old man with a loyalty that has come from years upon years of brainwashing from a father and mother who are in denial.

Gary (Robert Patrick) has convinced himself that he only kills out of necessity—as a means of survival. Dorothy (Heather Graham), his wife and the mother of the three sons, is certain of her husband's basic decency for reasons that don't really matter. There's a subplot here involving her relationship with a local reporter (played by Molly C. Quinn), whom Dorothy soon begins treating like a daughter. The point, we suppose, is that, if this is how she treats a woman whom she only believes is her daughter, how would she have treated her actual sons for all those years?

We have to suppose a lot here. The movie hints at some psychological insight into this twisted family and these hopeless individuals, but it's so busy following the various threads of the aftermath of the escape that there's little time for or effort put into anything more than hints. The sons—eldest Donnie (Alex MacNicoll), middle child Ricky (Skyy Moore), and youngest Ray (Casey Thomas Brown)—are both devoted to and afraid of their father—to the point that the two younger ones will excuse their father's actions. They believe him when he says the slaughter of a family, including a baby, was the idea of Randy Greenawalt (Chris Browning), the other escapee. The father insists that he had to go along with it. Only Donnie begins to question Gary's actions, and in response, Gary gives the son a reason not to do so.

This side of the story works as a study of this abusive relationship, which has consequences beyond the three sons. What works to a lesser degree is Dorothy's story, which only shows the results of her delusions about her husband, without detailing how they began or how they transferred on to the sons. Her character exists in a vacuum of denial, and her scenes only emphasize that point again and again.

There's also the story of Sheriff Cooper (Bruce Davison), who is tracking the fugitives and questioning Gary's family members about the escapee's possible movements and aims. There's not much to this, either, except to show the process of the manhunt, which doesn't add up to much, and that Gary's actions have consequences (Cooper knew the guard who was killed), which is mostly unnecessary once we see how terrible Gary is. Davison's performance is quite good, despite the roundabout nature of the character's subplot, especially in how he gives an emotional core to what could be a clichéd role.

Beyond learning about the case through a fairly objective dramatization of events, it's never quite certain what we're supposed to take from all of this. Director Dwight H. Little begins and ends the movie with a photograph of the three sons as children. It's true, based on what we see from the movie, that the sons never really had a chance, given what we can devise of their upbringing. If that's the ultimate point of Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison, though, it's lost amidst a narrative that wants to show a lot, while saying very little about it.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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