The Last Detail (Hal Ashby, 1973)
The life and career of director Hal Ashby as been tainted by his temper and his much notorious drug addiction and his prematured death of a cancer in 1988. In the 1970's, the decade he did his strongest efforts Ashby wasn't recognized as one of the proeminent figure except for his modest but remarkable Harold and Maude. But almost a decade after his death film buffs dug back into his catalog of films to discover more than the aforementioned Harold and Maude but to find Coming Home, Being There, and The Last Detail. Mainly categoried as an actor's director he was far from the cinematic brilliance of Francis Ford Coppola or Terrence Malick in the 1970's. His cinematophy is natural and has more terra cota colours than the colourful films of this era. His technique is sober and the "mise en scène" reflects minimalism and efficiency. Maybe not as minimalist as John Cassavetes but in a more classic way. This is the plot that counts for a Hal Ashby picture, not the display of technique and experimentations. With The Last Detail, Ashby had a strong cast with a young Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young and the first appearance of Nancy Allen. Even if, I think Nicholson is like Johnny Depp, they always plays the same and the viewer never forgets he is in a film. Both have their mimics and just can't get out of them. However, I know this separates cinephiles some love them some hate them but I can stand Nicholson more than Depp.
Two sailors, Buddovsky "Bad-Ass" (Jack Nicholson) and Mulone "Mule" (Otis Young) are ordered to take a young marine named Meadows (Randy Quaid) in a prison from the naval base of Norfolk to Portsmouth. Meadows is charged for theft, being a cleptomane he steals everything from everyone. But he is a young man who has almost nothing in life and that brings up the mercy of Buddovsky and Mulone. The two men also want to take some time to have some fun during the trip and they embark Meadows in their journey. At first, the guys are tough on Meadows but when they get to know him they befriend with him and feel the need to give him a little glimpse of the adult life before he enters into jail for seven years.
The setting of the film is simple but it is the development of the relationship between the three men and the humanity displayed by the guards of the prisoners that stands out and gives you this smile on your face. It is almost a feel good movie with strong consequences. The fact that the guys take care of the young man as if they initiate him to life before he is taken away from it is ironic at the same time. They present to him what life can offer to a honest man and then bring him to jail to think about his crime. The relationship and the interactions of the characters makes it interesting because Bad-Ass and Mule kind of life through Meadows their own relief and their own enjoyment of life.
Ashby's film delivers a deep humanist tale of justice and deed. The Last Detail represents a learning lesson to Meadows and also to the viewer who must understand the luck he has of being "free" from jail and/or the Army. It also wears the fights of its time by being a post-Vietnam flick where the Marines are considered as mobilized so they have to report to the Army and its administration just like Meadows who is sentenced to seven years of prison. It is a social critique and also an ironic tale from a capable director.