Last Man Standing (1996)

Kurosawa on Kurosawa

Students of film have great fun with situations like this. Here we have three films (‘Yojimbo,’ ‘Fistful,’ and ‘Last Man’) with the same script but entirely different cinematic philosophies. All do well at what they attempt.

Kurosawa is one of the great innovators of film, developing the notion of the disembodied eye whose curiosity changes depending on the action. He is interested not so much in the images, but in the seeing of the images and the acknowledged reaction to what is seen.

Leone had a different agenda. He wanted to take an extremely mature idiom and turn some elements of it inside out. The hero is damaged goods. The focus is on the characters but the trick is to take Kurosawa’s knowing eye and give it humor. So we not only are seeing Leone make fun of the Cowboy hero, he also builds in our humorous reaction into the fabric of the film. It worked and defined a style of self-ironic films that is far more popular now than ever was the western.

Now comes Walter Hill. He takes the ‘old’ self-irony away from the camera and gives it to Willis, who has made an entire career out of winking at the audience. Where the character irony used to be, Hill places cinematic irony. In other words, Leone was modifying the expectations of character and Hill modifies the expectations of situation.

The result is a camera that makes fun of the pictures it takes. When Willis shoots the first guy, he barrels back a good 100 feet. When the guns go off, they are more a commentary on the silliness of guns than a serious depiction of death. Victims instantly die. All of them and us are ‘shot.’

This only works when everything is far more abstract than in the predecessor films. The town is as desolate and simple as possible. The sunsets are only of one kind, imagined. The clothes are extremely theatrical.

This film is not about a guy. It is about film, and filmmaking, using much the same trick as in ‘Romeo + Juliet’ of that same year. Unfortunately for us. Hill is a better theorist than he is an artist. So though one can see that he set out to do something clever, even important, his skills weren’t up to it. If you want to see a more successful attempt, still flawed, check out ‘Way of the Gun.’

Posted in 2002

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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