The Last Detail Reviews
The Last Detail has elements of brotherhood and a road trip in its story, but it is important to understand that it is a 1973 film. In that sense, it is one which capitalised on society's disillusionment with the world as they faced the corrupt authorities they refused to conform to anymore. As the main characters in The Last Detail are U.S. Navy Officers, they have to maintain an important allegiance to authority if they want to get far in the world. But instead, they don't maintain too much passion or care for anything. The Last Detail examines the aimless nature of their lives in a very simplistic manner, watching them go aimlessly through the world attempting to find any joy they can. By that rationale it is a slow film and rather dated in the sense that it would have been significantly better to grasp if the viewer had watched it upon its original release, but many of its virtues still carry over well into today and the sense of nostalgia and historical relevance that comes with it certainly proves to be an effective sentiment even if it is lesser than it was once upon a time. The basic criticisms that I would have of The Last Detail are simply that it adheres to many production related conventions of films from its era, regarding the low pace and the rather familiar subject matter. But even then, it still stands as solid entertainment.
The Last Detail feels familiar to another Jack Nicholson film, the Academy Award nominated 1970 feature Five Easy Pieces in the way it depicts young Americans disillusioned in the world pulled together only by a sense of friendship between each other. A lot of the film is about individuality in the face of a society which demands conformity, the same way that the Naval reserve does. These themes could have been touched upon a bit more than they were, but the general intentions of director Hal Ashby are admirable. But the atmosphere in The Last Detail seems inconsistent. As a comedy-drama, The Last Detail attempts to establish a balance between the two genres by maintaining a gritty story but using a rather lighthearted musical score. The film seems to be a drama at heart and it really effectively grasps a sense of grit, but the humour is not so much there. And so when the music in the film suddenly becomes lighthearted, it just doesn't feel right. Whenever the music in The Last Detail comes in, there is a sense of tonal inconsistency which plagues the film and detracts from its dramatic nature without being all that funny. Also, there is a sense that the incompetent nature of some of the Naval officers seems to be played off for comic relief in the film. I'm not sure how intentional that is. Perhaps the entire concept of comedy in cinema has changed over the four decades since The Last Detail was released, but either way it was not something I was able to pick up on. I appreciated The Last Detail for its dramatic nature, but I felt that the attempts at humour just interfered with that. There were certainly some comedic charms brought into play as a result of the nature of the actors, but aside from that it just really wasn't as funny as I felt that it wanted to be.
But like I said, The Last Detail has no problems succeeding as an effective drama. Its underlying concepts are timely and promote an interesting thematic, and though the film is slow burning it is touching because it gives viewers plenty of time to understand the characters and the nature of the universe they live in with the cruel melancholy of idiotic authority. But the real connection to the film comes from the characters thanks to the performances of the actors.
Jack Nicholson really is brilliant in The Last Detail. Though you couldn't expect any less from an actor of his calibre, Jack Nicholson really deals his brilliance into The Last Detail. Capturing a character lost in where to go in the world and following the rules of an authority he has nothing but disdain for, Jack Nicholson strips his role down to the core and puts all his effort into really sinking into the role. He passes with flying colours because his interactions with the other cast members are tough and yet touching, so he finds a way to stand strong but really convey humanity in his role. Jack Nicholson's performance is the best thing about The Last Detail.
Randy Quaid's performance in The Last Detail is possibly the best of his career. Though he is a very tall man, in The Last Detail he manages to play a character who seems so insignificant and metaphorically small to the world, plagued by his own innocence and fears. As he develops a stronger chemistry with Jack Nicholson and Otis Young, his character really progresses well because you can see him smile more and pick up in confidence even though he is plagued by the knowledge of his own incarceration. Randy Quaid makes a very touching effort in The Last Detail and reminds us just how much talent runs in the Quaid family.
Otis Young also does an effective job. Though his performance does not lay down the same effect as the surrounding lead actors, Otis Young does his part to pay the same kind of spirit to his character and keep up with the themes of the story which he has no problem maintaining.
So The Last Detail is not as funny as it sometimes tries to be, it is a very slow film and proves to be rather dated, but with a solid sense of dramatic grit and powerful performances from Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid it proves to entertain nicely.