Last Man Standing is a Depression era drama that stars Bruce Willis as a man who says his name is John Smith, and who arrives at the Texas town of Jericho during Prohibition. It is a strange town: The buildings suggest a Western from the 1880s, the cars suggest the late 1920s, and there are two local bootlegging gangs who have arrived at an uneasy truce. And that’s it. Near as I could tell, there are no other non-gang residents of Jericho except for the undertaker, the sheriff and the bartender.
The movie is based on a story by Ryuzo Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa, and some filmgoers will recognize the plot outlines from Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961). Well, Kurosawa has inspired other good American movies (his “Seven Samurai” was remade as “The Magnificent Seven,” and “Yojimbo” also loosely inspired “A Fistful of Dollars”), but here the attempt to move the story from Japan to Texas seems pointless, because the movie made from it isn’t Kurosawa, or a Western, or a gangster movie, or anything else other than a mannered, juiceless, excruciatingly repetitive exercise in style.
“Last Man Standing” takes that story line to its ultimate refinement. Following in the footsteps of Kurosawa’s samurai tale, Willis arrives in a strange town with no history and few plans (“Drunk or sober, I had no complaints–even if I did get my hands dirty on the way”). He discovers local power is divided between the Strozzi gang (led by Ned Eisenberg) and the Doyle gang (led by David Patrick Kelly). He decides to end their uneasy truce in order to make money from the resulting chaos.
“This is the story of a bad man, who as soon as he arrives begins pushing buttons and doing things only for himself,” said Hill. “But we also discover that this man is at a point of spiritual crisis with himself and his own past. And this man decides that maybe he should do one good deed, even if it goes against all the rules of his life as he understands it … The action and the violence must be organic to the story being told. I think this is obviously by its nature a very dark and very hard movie, so I think it would be dishonest to tell the story and present the physicality in a softer way. Besides, I don’t think this is the most brutal film imaginable. There’s actually very little blood other than in the sequence where Bruce gets beaten up.”