Thursday, February 2, 2012

Let's Get This Over With: The Last Detail (1973)


There are very few films that I regard as highly as The Last Detail (1973). The product of one of the best eras in American cinema, from one of my favorite directors (Hal Ashby), the film is unpretentious and simultaneously heavy. By turns silly, comical, and suddenly serious, The Last Detail (1973) manages that rare task of making a very specific set of incidents into a nearly universal story.

I distrust movies that try to have a big message but, by working so hard at the little moments involved in the journey within the story of The Last Detail (1973), the makers maybe inadvertently created something with a real resonance.

The 3 leads are expertly cast and Jack Nicholson walks a fine line between the sort of performance that winks at, and shows off for, the audience in a self-aware fashion, and an acting job every bit a thing of duty as the task the actual character is doing in this film.

Nicholson might not be a totally believable sailor but he is a totally believable Bad Ass Buddusky.

Otis Young brings a sort of gravity to the role of Mule. His performance is less showy than Nicholson's but every bit as natural and effortless. There's something noble about his character's situation and, of the 3 main characters, he's the one with the most to lose should this detail go sour.

"I consider myself in jeopardy with you, man. Understand?"

Randy Quaid is both funny and sympathetic here, but not so sympathetc that we pick sides in the film.

Things aren't so simple here.

This is a story about duty, reality, the cynicism that comes with adulthood -- the very nature of work, really.

This follow-up scene to the famous "shore patrol" scene was shot on 14th Street in my former hometown of Washington D.C.. I think that building on the left is now a CVS drugstore...

The Last Detail (1973) remains one of those films that I feel like I have to revisit every few years. It rewards me as a viewer each time and, despite a pretty strong sense of plot and momentum, it's a work of little character moments that tell a larger story.

We know, more or less, what Buddusky and Mule were doing before the film and we've got a pretty good guess what they'll be doing after the end of the picture.

They'll be doing their duty no matter how much they hate that detail...

"Let's get this over with..."