Kim Jee-woon’s Hollywood debut, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring vehicle in the decade since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, offers an admirably centrist perspective on the current hot topic of gun ownership, free from the myopic callousness of, say, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, albeit one whose cartoonish overtones occasionally infringe on its moral potency. The Last Stand doesn’t pretend to offer any concrete solutions to our issues of crime and bloodshed, and that lack of pretense goes a long way in legitimizing what it does sell: the valor of the steadfast commoner in the face of evil. An early sight gag drives home the truth that those who possess firearms often suffer as a result, but that humor is bookended by a later tragedy where even the good guys with guns aren’t able to save the day. The film complicates its otherwise straightforward narrative by refusing to trade in the absolutes that have become commonplace in political talking points.
The plot is struck from the same archetype as High Noon: Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), an international drug lord, has escaped custody and is racing from Las Vegas toward the Mexican border, underestimated by the F.B.I. at every turn and with seemingly nothing standing between him and political asylum. Meanwhile, the meager police force of Sommerton Junction, Arizona discovers Cortez’s henchmen erecting a bridge across a narrow gap of the border canyon, and over the course of a few mourning hours must pull themselves and their resources together to face the oncoming threat.
This scenario alone could make for satisfyingly stripped-down genre fare all on its own, but a great deal of The Last Stand’s raucous energy comes from its acute casting. As a former narcotics officer with a distaste for violence, Schwarzenegger’s Sheriff Ray Owens is a cheeky cinematic/political catalyst to the film’s melting-pot cast of characters, and precisely the kind of downplayed comeback role the aging star’s career needed, if not quite the one he deserved. The natural comedic talents of Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzmán have rarely been better used, but it’s Jaimie Alexander who deserves the most credit for grounding the film in a sense of genuine loss. The tone occasionally wants for dramatic heft (a cruel massacre sequence is borderline flippant in execution), while the villains are frequently too arch to be considered a legitimate threat, but these are perhaps necessary sacrifices for a film that refuses to take itself seriously. Kim’s sardonic approach is both critical and loving, and when Ahhnuld stands his ground against his murderous nemesis and quips, “You make us immigrants look bad,” The Last Stand offers a glimmer of hope amid our own seemingly endless propensity toward self-destruction.
From the "Blue Moon"-scored opening scene on, the 7.1 DTS track is a force to be reckoned with, though the quieter patches of the film might have you reaching for the volume control. Dialogue makes pronounced use of the soundstage, and the dynamics of the film’s firefights and car chases (particularly the climactic cornfield sequence) are reference-level immaculate. The image is similarly striking, with deep blacks, organic textures, and reds befitting a blood-soaked western.
Nothing special here, though the behind-the-scenes compilation "Actor-Cam Anarchy" is amusing, particularly if you want to hear Jaimie Alexander’s impersonation of Chewbacca. "Not in My Town: Making The Last Stand" runs half an hour and consists of little more than puff-piece interviews; it’d have been nice to hear more from the director on successfully overcoming the language barrier and the sensibilities he brought to his first American production. Tops is "Cornfield Chaos: Scene Breakdown," which goes into the challenges posed by the film’s most complex sequence, such as the finite availability of fresh corn for the vehicles to plow through (echoes of Lawrence of Arabia’s logistical nightmare of shooting the undisturbed desert landscape). "The Dinkum Firearm and Historic Weaponry Museum Tour" covers the weapons used in the film, and rounding out the set are a bunch of previews and deleted/extended scenes.
Disappointing supplements notwithstanding, Lionsgate’s BD release of the under-seen The Last Stand does well by a film that’s proud to be small.