Running Time: 107 mins
Director: Kim Jee-Woon
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Peter Stormare, Forest Whitaker
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I had every intention of having The Last Stand as a Papercut review… for all of about seven minutes. Arnie’s return to the silver screen in The Expendables was short and heavily supported by just about every red-blooded male who has appeared in the Action genre throughout the eighties and beyond. Some questioned whether he still had it. Whether the genre he (arguably) had the greatest influence on, still had a place between its credits for the Austrian superman. Fear not. The King isn’t dead, he was just taking a breaking.
Kim Jee-Woon’s English language debut comes off a run of phe-fucking-nominal cinema including A Bittersweet Life and I Saw The Devil. With The Last Stand, Jee-Woon does a Sergio Leone, moving away from his native language, native genre (the Thriller) and into an adrenaline pumping All-American Action/Western hybrid. The results, are quite stunning. On paper, The Last Stand should be just another explosion fest. One that’s been so heavily covered that it leaves you numb with a side of sleepy. On paper, it’s the same movie as SWAT which was nothing short of predictable one tone guff but what Jee-Woon brings to the table is a different rhythm.
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Looking at cinema as a language, it suddenly becomes obvious that this movie would (of course) have a different linguistic rhythm and pattern to it. Korean, after all, is incredibly different to English and it is KJW’s Korean sensibilities that takes the genre conventions and frees them from the expected rhythmic pacing. The film’s visual aesthetic is one of rich blues and browns, gorgeous Leone inspired extreme close-ups of eyes as men be men and by that I mean shoot and beat the living shite from one-another. His free roaming, intrusive use of the camera almost drags the audience into the guts of every fight and shootout; until all you can smell is gun powder and blood… so much iron.
The film has a kick-ass cast. Peter Stormare show glimpses of his psychotic, Fargo, best. Johnny Knoxville shows us why we all remember him fondly from Walking Tall and Luis Guzman & Forest Whitaker hold back just enough as to not run rampant all over their scenes. Eduardo Noriega (as Cortez) is one mean and menacing SOB (even if he does look a little like the former Mr. Kylie ala SWAT) but it was only ever going to be one man’s movie. Arnie doesn’t disappoint. Under Jee-Woon’s direction he’s given some great dialogue and truly physical, age defying, beat downs to give and take, which he does… to the point that his time in Californian office disappears. It’s like he’s never been away… and that’s a wonderful world to live in.
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You can’t wow enough over Arnie and Co, with extra special credit going to the choreographer. The Main Street shootout leaps from the screen and maybe it’s KJW’s influence here again as the tried and tested action conventions seem to have a new lease of life. They certainly had a fresh impact on me, fresh enough to go “ah fuck it, this needs to be a full length review!” Several moments during the shootout, and end toe-to-toe will have you screaming and cheering as though it’s a prize fight, as if it’s your team turning over a four goal deficit.
Sure, narratively The Last Stand does nothing that hasn’t been done before. It’s a well-worn story in a well-worn genre but that makes what KJW, Arnie and The Last Stand achieved even more incredible. As an action movie, it’s an instant classic, a comeback that will go down in the hallowed halls of Action history. In his career Schwarzenegger has probably killed more men that religion and it’s so good to have him back. This is a movie with two-ton balls, more team-ups with Kim Jee-Woon please.