Mark Reviews Movies

The Last Stand


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jee-woon Kim

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez

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

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 1/18/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 17, 2013

In his first role of any notable significance beyond a cameo in a decade, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his unique, larger-than-life persona are back where they belong. This is an older Schwarzenegger, who walks with a noticeable limp and wears his pants a little high, but that hasn't ruined his appeal—the accent that somehow seems perfectly normal in a small town in Arizona and the way he delivers one-liners (including one that acknowledges the accent and another—the best one—that is simply a single word of gratitude to a shotgun-wielding old lady). In fact, age has given his screen persona a little more heft. The Schwarzenegger character in The Last Stand seems more physically vulnerable and is more emotionally exposed.

In the waning hours of the night, as he and his deputies prepare to take on a horde of thugs that outnumber and outgun them, Schwarzenegger's Sheriff Ray Owens admits to one of his subordinates that he's probably more afraid than she is. The reason is a simple one: He's seen plenty of violence in the past. "I know what's coming," he imparts with a sense of dread. The film gives Ray a back story that explains his trepidation. It's slim (a short mention of a deadly shootout that caused him to leave the Los Angeles Police Department), but it's all that is necessary. As an audience, we instantly recall Schwarzenegger's cinematic past, and that's the only back story we really need.

After that disastrous chapter in his life, Ray moved to the small town of Sommerton on the Arizona-Mexico border. Life is much quieter here, especially when most of the town departs for the weekend to watch the high school football team play an away game; it's the kind of town where the milk delivery man being late is reason enough for a call to the Sheriff.  Ray is looking forward to a few days away from work.

It never ends for him, though, as he notices a pair of shifty out-of-towners at the diner, including a man named Burrell (Peter Stormare) who plays a significant role in the carnage that follows, and sets Deputies Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzmán) and Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford) to check out the man's record. His third deputy Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander) is busy keeping an eye on her ex-boyfriend Frank (Rodrigo Santoro), a veteran of Iraq who has had trouble adapting after coming home and is currently in lockup at the station for drunk and disorderly conduct.

Meanwhile, Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) with the FBI is in charge of transferring Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), a dangerous drug cartel leader, to federal death row. There's a daring escape involving an industrial magnet, zip-lines, and multiple decoys, and soon enough, Cortez is on the run with Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez), another FBI agent, as a hostage. Cortez is a ruthless man; he shoots an unarmed FBI agent after mentioning the man's pregnant wife as a way to get him to drop his gun. Bannister is certain Cortez is heading south on the interstate to reach Mexico and thinks Sommerton might be a possible, if unlikely, route.

We are short an important detail, though. Cortez' escape vehicle is a souped-up sports car, capable of outrunning even a helicopter, and Cortez himself was once a professional race driver. Time is of the essence, and director Jee-woon Kim ensures we understand that point by informing us of the time at the start of almost every scene.

Andrew Knauer's screenplay streamlines the complications of the various threads, from a murder investigation just outside the town limits (Ray puts together everything—the murder, the suspicious visitors, and the fugitive—rather quickly with a simple, "They're all connected") to a traitor in the ranks of the FBI. The plot—and there is a lot of it—does not matter. It's just a way to bring Ray and his cohorts into conflict with Cortez' men, while Bannister begrudgingly comes to accept Ray's assessment of Cortez' plan and the fugitive makes the speedy trip down the highway.

The screenplay is patchwork in its assembly, and it provides a handful of opportunities for diverse action setpieces. Kim shows a steady hand in executing them and a firm control of the film's sometimes disparate tone. Despite the foreboding of Ray and his associates, including a gun enthusiast played by Johnny Knoxville who runs a museum in his barn, before the big standoff in the streets of Sommerton, the extended sequence itself plays out in a predictable exchange of bullets and eruption of blood. It's brutal, yes, but also playful—an old-fashioned Western setup (Burrell even brandishes an old-time revolver) with bursts of macabre humor.

It works, in large part because Kim takes advantage of the layout of the street on which the battle occurs and its many barriers (primarily in how those can be eliminated by rockets and a school bus), side routes (There's a tense standoff in a tight stairwell), and levels (Combatants take to the rooftops and, in one moment, fall quite violently from them). Kim knows when to hold on eerie moments of silence before the chaos, such as when the police at a road block wait for whatever surprise Cortez has planned or when the lights go out on Jerry and Sarah as they encounter Burrell and his men.

Save for those moments and a few like it, the entirety of The Last Stand is a relatively quiet buildup to the onslaught of the finale. It relies on the lazy-weekend attitude of people who don't see what's coming, and the comfort in knowing that we can easily accept Schwarzenegger as a Southwestern sheriff who will save the day.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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