The Last Detail Screen 7 articles

The Last Detail

1973

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  • A measured bummer of a picture about the impossibility of escape which Ashby accepted passively and executed immaculately, without any of the rough, hopeful edges that marked The Landlord and Harold and Maude as more personal work.

  • Featuring jocular male bonding with a bitter sting that's too conspicuously undersold, The Last Detail is no anti-authoritarian landmark, but it's a good time with superbly atmospheric location footage.

  • A tough-talking, sparely directed effort (1973) by Hal Ashby, with an immaculate performance by Jack Nicholson as the arrogant and salty (but feeling) sailor who tries to stay in charge of the odyssey, and almost doesn't.

  • Few films have such a sense of time running out, an obsession with finitude that renders each coarse naturalistic second poignant. When they take Meadows to the whorehouse, he must choose quickly and well. When he thinks he has fallen in love, the still-waiting camera urges him to speak up before it’s too late. When he tries to escape through the park, we pray that Buddusky won’t load his revolver in time. When the three men sprawl like schoolboys on the snowy ground, it is getting dark.

  • Written and produced during the dark, closing days of the Vietnam War, The Last Detail employs the picaresque structure of the standard World War II-era service comedy but undercuts its cliched devices at every turn... [Screenwriter Robert] Towne certainly deserves much credit, both here and in his next teaming with Ashby on Shampoo, but the film soars on the strength of Ashby’s direction, and particularly on his restraint of Nicholson.

  • The tough, salty script by Chinatown’s Robert Towne never pulls punches or succumbs to easy sentiment, while Hal Ashby’s boozily generous direction allows potentially shapeless scenes, like a drunken all-nighter or a brothel stopover, to breathe with instinctual, off-the-cuff potency.

  • The Last Detail is less sentimental and spiked with a disconcertingly bleak sense of humor; it's ultimately about two worker bees who elect to cover their own asses rather than stick their neck out for a potential systematic casualty. The film has an engagingly profane, scruffy looseness, a hallmark of Ashby and Towne's careers, that undermines the conventions of the narrative. Every major scene goes on longer than one expects, and often to considerable effect.

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