Today’s installment of badass Hard Bastardry comes in the shape of Walter Hill’s Prohibition-era hard-boiled gangster-noir thriller Last Man Standing. An officially sanctioned remake of Akira Kurosawa’s influential 1961 actioner Yojimbo, this one stars Bruce Willis in full-on scowling, cocky, tough son-of-a-bitch mode, as mysterious, travelling gun-for-hire John Smith. Stopping off in the small, West Texas town of Jericho, Smith quickly realises the burg is practically deserted, save for two warring bootleg gangs who have driven almost everyone else away with their nefarious misdeeds.
In town for about five minutes, Smith is soon neck-deep in trouble for staring a little too hard at the gorgeous girlfriend of Irish gangster Doyle(David Patrick Kelly). Despite being heftily outnumbered by eight hard-as-nails Irish hoodlums, the cocksure, wisecracking scoundrel mouths off, ‘A guy once told me it’s a free country!’ before the boys teach him a lesson by trashing his car. Smith duly gets the whole town’s attention and establishes quite the reputation by downing a scotch before outdrawing and blowing away Doyle’s top shooter. No sweat. Smith then promptly hires himself out to Italian mobster Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg)’s outfit, smelling an opportunity to make a fistful of dollars by playing the two rival factions off against each other in the war to control the contraband coming in from Mexico. The stage is set for some gloriously violent, double-crossing, explosive gangster mayhem.
Bruce is pretty damn cool in this one, slightly toning down his wise-guy, mouthy John McClane schtick to create a likeable, but ambiguous character whose moral code has many shades of grey, and whose motives are not always entirely clear. Smith doesn’t think twice about killing, but he’s also a gent, tipping his hat to the ladies and always ready to defend the honour of the weak and innocent. He gets mixed up with Strozzi’s downtrodden mistress, Lucy (Alexandra Powers), hinting that the ladies may be his one and only weak point. Despite masterfully deceiving and backstabbing practically everyone in town for his own benefit, when Lucy is brutalised after their affair comes to light, Smith shows he still has a heart by making sure she gets safely out of town.
Though he may have a soft centre, Smith, thankfully, is still reliably tough as hell. Ambushed by thugs while getting his rocks off with a hooker (a young Leslie Mann), he proves that a real Hard Bastard always keeps his guns handy as he athletically leaps out of bed, retrieving his six-shooters from under his pillow and blasting his attackers to hell. In the nude. It is a very, very cool manoeuvre and an absolutely classic action moment, only slightly ruined by the fact that he doesn’t get back under the sheets to finish the job.
Throughout the movie he displays massive cojones by repeatedly mouthing off, making enemies and getting into fistfights, knowing full well that the bad guys could pull a piece at any moment. The man just doesn’t give a rat’s ass. At one point, knowing that both sides want him six feet under, Smith nonchalantly sits in his chair in the mid-afternoon sun, in full view of the whole town, and quietly, smugly peels an apple, almost daring his enemies to make a move. That’s what I call tough!
Even when Doyle’s right hand man, fearsome enforcer Hickey(a terrifically menacing Christopher Walken) arrives in town, unflappable Smith still doesn’t back down. As the eerie, gangly, gravel-voiced Hickey does his best to intimidate him, the hotshot mercenary just smirks and waits for his moment: he’s the man with the plan, and he’s playing all the angles. Even when he’s ambushed in the bath, Smith keeps his cool, just leaning back and listening to what hickey has to say. When asked if he’s scared, he even has the gall to say ‘Yeah…the water’s getting’ cold!’ As his men beat the crap out of him and Hickey remarks, ‘He’s nothing without a gun,’ we just know that Smith still holds all the aces and he’s gonna finish this with gutsy aplomb. Smith is definitely the kind of guy you should really kill while you’ve got the chance. He’s even mental enough to think that he can take on an army of armed hoodlums while busted up, armed only with a small knife. ‘I can get a gun with it, ‘ boasts the crazy bastard.
After showing early promise, Hill’s picture starts to sag a little in its mid-section, proving perhaps a little too talky for those expecting non-stop, tommy-gun-blasting action. It’s fun to watch Smith swindling not just the hoods, but Bruce Dern’s crooked Sheriff as well, into thinking they’ve got the upper hand, but after a while you just want to see Bruce do what he does best: namely, making things go KABOOM!
Thankfully, the film builds up to a gorgeously bloody climax that sees Smith showcase his terrifying gunplay by taking on a room full of armed hoodlums in quite spectacular fashion. Not one of them manages to get close to the smooth, fedora-clad, shit-hot marksman, who is fast, assured, confident and impossibly cool. When one hood holds a gun to a girl’s head, Smith doesn’t even hesitate before blowing the guy away. We know so little about the guy, yet his body language, his reflexes and his confidence suggest that the havoc he wreaks on Jericho is only the tip of one icy cool iceberg. He annihilates goon after goon, all with that crazy, world-weary Die Hard look in his eyes, firing off a shitload of bullets and making the corpses bounce about all over the place like in a goddamn ultra-violent videogame, just to make sure they’re dead. He fights on, even though he’s severely wounded from his earlier pasting, even stopping for a big ol’ drink of whisky, because, hey, you might as well.
With business sorted out and just about everyone in town now dead or dying, Smith shows no joy, no celebration. ‘They were all better off dead,’ he spits, then gets back in his car and drives off, back out into the unforgiving desert. This was just another job. Now, on to the next one.
What a Hard Bastard.
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 7/10 – Smith does take a hell of a beating, but it barely slows him down.
COMBAT SKILLS: 8/10 – No-one is faster with a gun, though we never find out if he could have done it all with that knife…
ATTITUDE: 6/10 – Does it all for the money, but he’s a gent with the ladies.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 Blasts baddies in the nude and is rude to everyone in a town full of killers.
BODY COUNT: 31 kills in 101 minutes – respectable, but could have achieved so much more if he’d cut the chat and got on with wasting folk. 3/10
BRUCE’S SCORE: 31/50