Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Film Pairings — King of New York, Last Man Standing

If you dislike screen violence, move on.  Nothing you want to see here.  Seriously.

In King of New York almost all of it happens at night — what you would expect from a noirish film like this. Night fell on the screenplay and couldn’t get up.  Last Man Standing is late afternoon to sunset, orange-gold overlays a world of endless dust, appropriate for a near-noir film.  In both movies, there’s lots of guns and lots of blood.

Though King has a remarkably talented supporting cast — Lawrence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes and a brief appearance by Steve Buscemi — there is no doubt Christopher Walken is The King of New York.  Walken ‘s character is cold-blooded and charming, crazy as a loon and despite his last, heartfelt and determined humanitarian attempt he fails to redeem his life of serious and gruesome criminality. The machine moves on. Directed by Abel Ferrara, the visually, but brutally striking film prompted some audience members at its premiere to walk out.  Filmed in 1996, it is one of few relatively recent films to meet the exacting standards of what constitutes noir.  There is no hope.

I’ve never seen Bruce Willis give a bad performance.  He is solid here as well, but something is missing.  Arthur Hill has admittedly and respectfully taken the story from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and it was also inspired, some say, by Dashiell Hammett’s work, The Glass Key and Red Harvest. A corrupt town is cleaned up by one tough and unrelenting gunslinger. Director Hill, mines the gold of his Western-movie roots.  He brings prohibition-era gangsters into a wild west town. Willis’ success in going up against impossible odds has less to do with an extraordinary intelligence but rather his ability to fire two guns at the same time. I believe Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers had this skill as well. But things were not nearly so bloody in their dramas. And we are not sure whether the main character is going against the odds, risking his life in the cause of justice or because he was disrespected. Early on, we’re promised the appearance of a super-gangster. Throughout the first half of the film, we (maybe just me) can’t wait for the meeting of the super good guy and the super bad guy, who we know by process of elimination, has to be played by Christopher Walken.  Walken’s surprisingly restrained performance is adequate here.  Given such a pivotal role, though, he’s not been given much to work with and the let-down is inevitable.  The movie is worthwhile entertainment, but it seems to me, Last Man falls well short of its potential. In the end, the most interesting character is the ineffectual sheriff played by Bruce Dern.

If you are staying in, this is definitely a hard liquor night.  I’d save King of New York for last to savor Walken’s incredible performance.  Nobody does crazy as well.

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