The Last Run

Director: Richard Fleischer  
George C. Scott, Tony Musante, Trish Van Devere

I think I can say with complete confidence that everyone at some point of their lives feels overwhelmed by what they observe around them, and wonder how on earth they can build themselves up to a level equal to those magnificent individuals that they are observing at that very moment. It happened to me a good number of times as I was growing up, when I looked at my peers and saw how they appeared to be cool, calm, and collected and seemingly knowing what direction they were heading towards. Probably the first time this feeling of being overwhelmed happened to you was when you were very young, seeing many of the adults around you in flashy positions in life, and subsequently wondering how on earth could you equal them. For a number of us, that thought plants the seed for what follows for a considerable number of years afterwards. These people set a goal to someday be in that great position in life they admire and want to experience for themselves. Then for the next few years, they learn everything they can about both getting that goal and keeping that goal. Sometimes they actually start doing the acts that will get them to their goal before they become adults. Eventually, for many of these people, they do reach that goal, of being king or queen of their chosen profession. Obviously, when they reach their goal they get a considerable amount of satisfaction. But as I said, next comes the task of maintaining their high position in life. For example, supermodels look like they have it made, but behind all the photo shoots comes the incredible amount of maintenance work, such as having to exercise and maintain a proper diet so that their figure remains alluring.

Despite all the work many people in high positions put in order to maintain their position, there have been plenty of times that these particular people have not been able to remain at top. In a 1979 interview, movie actor Charles Bronson said, "Nobody stays on top forever. Nobody. It's impossible." That included Bronson himself, because just a few years later he was under contract to movie producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who put him in a string of cheesy movies that soon eroded what little box office star power he had left in the late 1970s. Indeed, Bronson's words seem to be true for many people who experience some kind of fame. In many cases, the audience for these once-famous people moves on towards new celebrities who appear fresh and have something new to offer. There are also times when the celebrity runs out of the juice that made them famous, whether it's from getting old and being in less physical shape, or their brains running out of new ideas that would keep them on top. Then there are people who decide to stop when they are at the top of their game, maybe seeing that trying to maintain being on top would be an extremely difficult task. For both those who fade despite their great efforts, or those who voluntarily stop what they are doing, often what can be found with these people after some time is the idea of making some sort of a comeback. It's easy to understand why some people are tempted by this idea. If successful, a comeback could be a great ego boost, and show all those whippersnappers that the one making a comeback still has got it.

No doubt you have come to the conclusion at this point that the movie I am reviewing here - The Last Run - involves a character coming out of some kind of retirement to make some sort of comeback. That's true, and one reason why I was attracted to the movie (I like seeing movie The Last Runcharacters determined to prove themselves.) But the movie's cast (including Oscar-winner George C. Scott) was also a draw, as well as the movie's history. The movie started production with John Huston as the director, but he and Scott didn't get along, so Huston was replaced not long after filming started by Richard Fleischer - a director who made some fine movies in his career (like The Spikes Gang), but also plenty of stinkers. I was curious to see how Fleischer would handle both the hot-headed Scott as well as a screenplay that reports I read before watching the movie indicated it was more or less a character study. The events of The Last Run center on an American by the name of Harry Garmes (Scott, Patton). Years earlier, he was the king of his profession, and that profession happened to be that of a getaway driver for various criminals associated with the Chicago mob needing a quick departure from their various crimes. But as the years went by, Garmes slowly slid off his throne. His wife left him, the child he had with her is now dead, and he is now living a quiet and uneventful life in the Portuguese countryside with his beloved 1956 BMW 503 convertible. His biggest human interactions now are with the occasional visit to a local prostitute (Colleen Dewhurst, When A Stranger Calls). Then one day, Garmes gets a request for his services. A criminal by the name of Paul Rickard (Musante, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage) plans to break out of police custody, and he needs Garmes to drive him and his girlfriend Claudie (Van Devere, Where's Poppa?) to safety in France. Although it's been years since the last time Garmes acted as a getaway driver, he accepts the assignment. At the beginning of the long ride ahead, it seems to be shaping up to be an easy job, with just the police to worry about. But eventually, Garmes finds out there is more danger attached to this assignment than just the police...

As you can see from that set-up, The Last Run could easily have been written, performed, and directed as a typical action movie. But the surprise is that this is not the case. True, there are a few scenes in the movie that involve various kinds of action, scenes that might have been home in an action movie. But those scenes are few and far between. As I indicated earlier, The Last Run has a screenplay (by famed writer Alan Sharp) that is more of a study of several different kinds of characters. The most obvious is, of course, Scott's character of Garmes. There are many interesting observations to be made with this central figure. The movie opens with him tinkering with his car, then taking his car out for a high speed test run. After this run, you can see on his face he is thinking, "Yes, I've still got it." A little later, he is seen fiddling with the wedding ring on his finger for a few seconds, before abruptly putting both hands forward as if he's grabbing a steering wheel. From what we learn later about his departed wife, this scene shows he is still hanging onto the memory of his wife, but these memories are quickly shoved aside with the promise of getting back into the game of getaway driver. But it's something he's doing alone, and not sharing with anyone. He does says at one point to someone, "I'm driving again for me," the closest he gets to opening up more is when he goes to a church and says in the confessional booth - where it's suggested that he's alone in the booth, with no one listening - "There's this thing I have to do. And I want to do it right. It's the only thing I know." With these moments and from a few others in the movie, the clues we get for the inner working of Garmes' mind clearly illustrate what kind of man he is. Although he acts tough when around other people, he is a man who has lost a lot over the years. He wants not only to prove he still has it, but wants a feeling of belonging to someone or even something. It comes as no surprise later in the movie when he decides to protect Paul and Claudie, because they find they need his help even more than they first thought. Paul and Claudie promise a kind of family, a sense of acceptance. Though whether Paul and Claudie would really want him to stay when the danger is finally gone, that is not answered until the end of the movie.

It's not just the character of Garmes that has been written with a lot more interest than you might be expecting. The characters of Paul and Claudie, while not as detailed as Garmes, have been constructed with a lot of interesting features. Paul shows some multi-dimension right from his introduction. He is cocky and confident shortly after he's seen escaping from the police, but once he learns that Garmes hasn't been active as a getaway driver for nine years, he is shaken and even a little scared. But as the trek progresses and the trio escape from one problem after another, Paul gets cocky again and even gets a little arrogant towards his savoir, repeatedly calling him "uncle". An explanation for this might be with Claudie being stuck between the two men. When the escape starts, Paul is seen in the front passenger seat of the car next to Garmes, but as the movie progresses and something seems to be developing between Garmes and Claudie, Paul moves to the back passenger seat, at one point being forced into a secret compartment between the back seat and the trunk. Later, when Paul shoots and kills an assassin, his joy and confidence return, and he moves back to the front passenger seat. It's very interesting watching the Paul character progress (or retreat) as the events of the movie pass by. But there are also some interesting observations to be made with the character of Claudie. For much of the movie, it is unclear which man she has an allegiance to, that is if she is on any man's side. She comes across as a master manipulator. She tells Paul that they are safe with Garmes, telling Paul that they are safe as a group and not separate. But a little later, when the three are in a hotel, Claudie goes to Garmes' hotel room and sleeps with him. True, it's subsequently revealed that it was under Paul's orders, but her willingness to do so and her seemingly growing affection for Garmes makes one wonder if she is falling for Garmes. Or maybe she's really out for herself. That question is another one that isn't answered until the end of the movie.

The writing for these three characters is very well done, but what also helps to sell these characters to the audience is with the performances by Scott, Musante, and Van Devere. All three are very good, but as you might be expecting, the actor who stands out the most is Scott. He wisely doesn't play the character of Garmes as a man who has the energy of someone half his age. He isn't lightning fast or strong - he comes across as kind of weathered and weary - but he shows he has a lot of street smarts and experience from all his past jobs, and his various actions coming from his past knowledge for this new assignment all come across as very believable. Scott seems both very comfortable and a natural fit in this foreign world. Some of that success must also come from the direction. I have no idea which parts of the movie were filmed by John Huston and which by Richard Fleischer, but there is a uniform feel throughout. The feeling throughout is very sober and serious, with almost no comedy relief to be found. While the movie is not action-packed, the characters are always put up front and center, and they keep the movie lively and never boring. When there is action, it comes across as more realistic and down to earth than you might find in a straight action movie. The action may not be spectacular, but it's very convincing and contributes to making the world in this movie a believable world. Both Huston and Fleischer were unquestionably aided by the expert as well as striking cinematography by future Oscar-winner Sven Nykvist. The various Spanish locations that Nykvist photographs look haunting and unlike any other landscapes I have seen in a movie despite the many spaghetti westerns I've managed to see. And as usual, Jerry Goldsmith contributes a flavorable score, very European-sounding (including the use of a zither), as well as being a score that also knows when to be quiet. Much of the movie (even during the action sequences) has no music playing in the background, and with no music to jazz up many scenes, the background silence makes the world of The Last Run even more realistic. The movie definitely isn't escapist fare, but if you are in the mood for something different, namely a world with complex characters making intriguing yet believable actions, check it out.

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See also: Cockfighter, The Spikes Gang, Valdez Is Coming