Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Last Stand...for what?


Near the very end of THE LAST STAND, two characters examine each others' war wounds. They have both been established as amateur men of the law, part of the last line of defense against a sociopath with a penchant for race cars, whose idea of fun is to drive at 190 mph while he has his posse dispose of any obstacle, human or not, in his path towards the border. It matters little what the sociopath wants, or why the men of law must stop him, because this film, by Kim Ji-woon with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role, seems to be nothing more but one loud shootout where the stakes are low. Scratch that, they stakes are not even low, they are not there. Watching THE LAST STAND, I could not help but clearly see it as just the depiction of a bunch of boys playing with toys. Not guns, toys.

Let's go back to the characters who look at each others' wounds in the end. Their attitude towards all the violence they have taken part of is to look at each other, acknowledge they've been hurt (as in, they've been shot), and compare their hurt in terms they can understand. One says something along the lines of...my wound is from a big gun, while the other replies "please, that looks like it's done by a bb gun".

Their aloof, innocent yet acerbic ignorance summarizes what it feels like to watch THE LAST STAND. Director Kim Ji-woon, who has made various violent thrillers in his native land, delves into the making of not only an action film, but one which revolves around an American small town with supposedly everyday Americans, and in doing so creates a silly grotesque that ought to make one cringe at its breeziness and swag rhythm.
Let me be the first one to say that there are parts of this movie which are fun in their action and funny in their demeanor.It is at points a fun movie to watch, specially in its many breaks from the action to present us with slight touches of fancy, misleading slapstick, and what could pass as folk humor. Those moments point to a personal touch, the beginnings of a rhythm put in place by a director, but are not enough to help him or his cast create anything that feels believable. I do not mean to say that the film should be drab, and since its subject matter is guns (and more guns!) its exposition should be weighty or preachy, but for a film to feel alive the director should at least be inquisitive.

There is a total lack of curiosity towards the people depicted or even at times the action itself. To put it more bluntly, here there is a director who is neigh completely  foreign (culturally, linguistically, stylistically, historically, folklorically) who looks to depict, with various levels of belief, the life of a small American border town without asking himself any questions about it. The first half hour of the film, it feels as if whoever is behind the camera can only tell everyone to "act American, small-townish". The result is the impression that a studio went into an actual small town, got its inhabitants to play pretend as themselves but placed them in a completely distilled parody of the life they are supposed to be leading in their real home. Throw in Arnold Schwarzenegger as the town's sheriff, and let's just say...it's weird, the way a student film is strangely off.

Perhaps this is the only kind of film that a studio thinks could be enjoyed right now anyway. I suppose most people, other than the actual agents behind the camera, who would belong to the culture being depicted could not have helped but feel inquisitive about the action to be displayed and the means it takes to impart such violence with such glee.

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