Last Man Standing 1996 Movie Scene Bruce Willis as John Smith holding his Colt 1911 handgun in the street of a small town of Jericho

Last Man Standing [1996]

There’s something about these nineties action movies that keeps pulling me back to them. At that time I couldn’t fully appreciate what they were trying to do, I just wanted to be entertained. And entertained I was, just to be perfectly clear. It’s just that now I can understand what they were trying to do. Last Man Standing is a different kind of Western movie, set in the 1920s but with a familiar structure and characters. This sort-of-speak transitional period is often overlooked by filmmakers. And this is why Walter Hill decided to give it a go. He’s the guy behind such movies as The Driver, The Warriors, and 48 Hrs.

However, I much prefer his lowkey, almost B movies like Johnny HandsomeTrespass, and Bullet to the Head. Last Man Standing starts like any other Western movie, with a drifter arriving in a small town. And then, in mere moments, he falls in love and finds himself as a target for a local crime boss. It doesn’t get more vanilla than that. Bruce Willis was at the top of his game back in the nineties and he was the perfect choice for the lead role. Opposite of him we have the magnetic Christopher Walken, doing what he does best. The supporting cast is also full of familiar faces, some of which ended up in popular tv shows like Deadwood and Sopranos. 

I just want to take a slight detour now into the world of weird movies. Around that time I watched Scanner Cop II, starring Patrick Kilpatrick who could blow people’s heads up if he focused really hard. I don’t know why but that movie freaked me out completely. There was something so evil and perverse about it that I remember it to this day. Of course, this was a spin-off of the much more popular Scanners, written and directed by David Cronenberg. So, when I saw Patrick in this movie, I had a very visceral reaction to him. I guess all of this is the consequence of me being in my early teens and watching movies I shouldn’t have. 

Moving on, Last Man Standing is a remake of Kurosawa’s samurai movie Yojimbo and not the first one. You might remember that small and completely forgotten western, For A Fistful of Dollars from 1964. That was also a remake and a damn fine one. The first thing that’s going to strike you is a distinct visual style dominated by the color orange. And then you’ll start to notice that the horses have been replaced by cars. And that six-shooters are now fully automatic handguns. All of this gives the movie a refreshing atmosphere on top of that classic Western tension.

His name is John Smith and he just rolled into the small town of Jericho. The first thing he does is get into trouble with the local mob boss. He tries to get help from a local sheriff but he’s too much of a coward to do anything. So John goes straight to the local drinking establishment to calm his nerves and thinks of a plan. The plan he comes up with is pretty simple. He’ll just go work for the local mob boss, earn some money and get out of this hellhole. However, things will soon start to get more and more complicated.

There are a lot of brutal and fast-paced shootouts in Last Man Standing. The rest of the time is full of stylish scenes, intriguing characters, and “cool” dialogue. The story keeps twisting and turning around our hero who seems to be able to outsmart them all. Although if you’ve seen the original movies, this will come as no surprise. Featuring a short running time of ninety minutes, fast pacing, and a lot of action, Last Man Standing is definitely a movie worth watching. If you’re looking for something similarly stylish I recommend you check out Sam Raimi’s The Quick and The Dead.

Director: Walter Hill

Writers: Ryûzô Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Walter Hill

Cast: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Karina Lombard

Fun Facts: The handgun the character of John Smith, played by Bruce Willis, uses is government model Colt 1911 A1.


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