The Last Shot Review
Like the alluring smell from a passing restaurant as you walk by, The Last Shot kicks off with the indication of ‘and now for something completely different’ – or at least ‘different’ when applied to the commercial Hollywood machine. From the opening moments – the inventive credit ‘titles’ and the soundtrack pastiche of Twilight Zone weirdness and Indiana Jones adventurism, there’s a distinct hint of left-field quirk, but its only after you see Alec Baldwin asking for his finger to be cut off, and spying FBI agents listening-in, readying ice, that the ‘bit different’ securely sets in. For The Last Shot isn’t so much a film about a true life FBI sting operation as it is an examination of Hollywood’s powerful allure. Its quirks come out of the genuinely creepy aspirations of those that are desperate to either break into Hollywood, stay successful, or just have anything, even at the most trivial level, to do with the industry. In the vain of post-modern horror’s self-reflexivity, The Last Shot parodies the very industry that created it with surprisingly rewarding results.
Alec Baldwin plays hotshot F.B.I agent Joe Devine, who in a moment of brilliance, concocts the idea of a fake film production to trap unscrupulous mobsters. Enter Matthew Broderick’s desperate, wannabe director Steven Schats, whose being trying to sell his script of cancer-ridden redemption for years. When Devine picks-up on Schats’ ‘need’ for that one chance to break into the industry, he hires him to direct Schats’ personal love – the script he’s been cherishing for a long time.
There’s something undeniably intoxicating about Jeff Nathanson’s The Last Shot, because while the acting is certainly top-notch (the actors clearly having fun with the script and their characters), and the film is consistently funny, Nathanson draws on a obfuscating humour that parodies the ‘freakish’ behaviour of its offbeat Hollywood wannabes. There’s a wonderful little scene before Devine meets Schats’ where he’s trying to learn the lingo and act more like an experienced Hollywood producer, where he queries Joan Cusack (in an uncredited cameo) where to find a script. She replies, ‘This is Hollywood. Just go outside and ask anyone you see for a script – a gardener, a cripple, a child molester.’ The film seems to celebrate a fascination with Hollywood while criticising those that aspire to be a part of it, not least when Devine misconstrues Schats’ question about his wife, culminating in the implication of a relationship between prostitution and the Hollywood machine. The whole undertone of trapped and kennelled dogs which runs throughout the film could be seen as a metaphor for the animalistic aspirations of those that are trapped by their fanciful whimsy, not just those trying to break in but those that are already there. Devine’s cover of talking about his dead dog like she was his wife is certainly funny (it’s great when he tells Schats that his wife was the hair stylist on Jaws and he met her on the set to which Scahts says, ‘That is so ironic. She worked on Jaws, and then she drowns in a Jacuzzi.’), but it just goes to magnify the inherently fake nature of the American film industry, much like the fake film production they are producing.
The Last Shot prospers from Nathanson’s assured direction as he wallows in the sadistic edge of terrifically scripted dialogue whilst positioning us as lapdog onlookers peeking in. His pretentious outlook can become grating but only furthers the self-acknowledgement of the narrative - the external parody, ironically, an internal one as well. Baldwin and Broderick are great in their roles, especially Baldwin who is as funny here as he was in Burton’s Bettle Juice and Mamet’s State and Main. It’s also nice to see other actors sending-up themselves with Calista Flockhart’s stroppy, struggling actress and Toni Collette’s ego-ridden starlet - her first words when an F.B.I helicopter disrupts the set: ‘Oh my god, it’s the fucking paparazzi! You people have got to learn to leave me alone! I’m just a normal person.’ It’s just a shame that the talents of Ray Liotta are wasted and the film loses its way towards the end.
Jeff Nathanson’s directorial debut has much to savour since its satirical commentary certainly holds ones interest, but the fact it is at times exceptionally funny, makes it one of those films that is hard to deny a repeat viewing.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphic enhanced. Despite some softness to the image it is generally very good, displaying a vibrant colour palette and attention to detail. The print is in good condition, as you’d expect, but some slight grain is noticeable on very close inspection.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is adequate without being anything special, providing as it does, a soundstage perfectly acceptable for this type of comedy-drama. Most of the sound is positioned centrally with both the left-front and right-front speakers getting enough of a workout to produce good spatial ambience. The rear speakers are rarely used but the subwoofer does provide the odd bit of added bass when required.
Audio Commentary with director Jeff Nathanson and actor Matthew Broderick - To be honest I wasn’t a big fan of this commentary as Nathanson’s egotistical rhetoric comes in layers, and the fact the two speakers don’t seem to know what’s going on hardly helps. I’m getting sick of commentators on DVDs saying things like, ‘perhaps we should just shut up and let the fans watch the film’ and ‘I don’t want to spoil the end of the film for the viewers’. Firstly, no-one would be watching the commentary having not seen the film first, and if they were, they wouldn’t give a damn about plot spoilers and certainly wouldn’t want the commentators to sit their silently. Broderick is the only one who brings anything of note to this commentary, but its sense of awkwardness makes for uninteresting viewing.
Inspired by actual events featurette - This 12 minute interview based featurette reunites ex-real life F.B.I agent Garland Schweickhardt with the two aspiring filmmakers that inspired the true-life retelling depicted in the film. It’s interesting but infuriating because the situation calls for a much more thorough review of which this 12 minute short can’t provide.
’Robert Evans Presents…’ - Introduced by Jeff Nathanson himself, this is a collection of deleted material recorded by producer Robert Evans, who narrated parts of the story but was ultimately dropped during post-production. It’s interesting to see what could have been and Evans’ distinctive voice could certainly have added an air of Hollywood class to the film. You can watch these segments separately or watch them seamlessly placed back into the film, making the decision of whether or not their inclusion was worthy, up to the viewer.
Deleted Scenes - Four deleted scenes are provided with the option to watch them all, or watch them separately. Director Nathanson introduces them and they are presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1.
Joan Cusack’s Montage - According to Nathanson, this footage was just too ‘funny’ to leave off the DVD but clearly wasn’t ‘funny’ enough to find a place in the film. Here we see outtakes of Cusack’s various work on the film focusing on her ad-libs. Some may find this funny but if I have a penny for every stone-faced, glum look I think this segment will induce, I’d be able to fund my own Hollywood blockbuster.
The Last Shot didn’t deserve such a poor showing at the box office in America but it isn’t really surprising given the nature of the film – if your last name isn’t Anderson (in reference to Paul T., and Wes), then genre-less quirk just doesn’t seem to sell (although they’d surely have something to say about that). Certainly however, the film does deserve to find a following on DVD and will probably gain some sort of cult status in a few years time. The DVD is perfectly adequate in bringing the film to the viewer (although the extras are weak and meaningless), and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Mamet’s State And Main, or both the aforementioned Anderson’s work, as well as Alexander Payne’s films.