|Quick Take- Solid acting and charm can't make up for the slow pace and unsatisfying ending.|
The Last Ride
The Ellen Theatre in downtown Bozeman has hosted a variety of events and shows since it opened in 1919: film, stand-up comedy, plays, and vaudeville acts just to name a few. This past weekend, the Ellen hosted a screening of The Last Ride. The film tells of the last days of country music star Hank Williams (played by Henry Thomas) as he is driven by Silas (Jesse James), a naÔve Ďhillbillyí (as Hank calls him) who had previously never left Alabama. Silas is tasked with bringing Hank to Charleston, West Virginia for a New Yearís Eve concert, but Hankís poor health, abrasive attitude, and partying ways jeopardize the trip.
For those who are indifferent to country music and its history, The Last Ride may prove to be a bit confusing. As a member of this indifferent population, (as can be illustrated by the fact that, upon hearing the film was about a Hank Williams, I believed it would follow the former Monday Night Football intro singer, which seemed absurd.) allow me to elaborate on the confusion. (It should be noted at this point that previous to seeing this film, all I had seen was the poster and had no idea of the plot described above nor the history of Hank Williams.)
For starters, the film opens on an Alabaman teenager working a crummy, unsatisfying job at an automotive repair shop. He is quickly painted as a sympathetic character, in part due to his boss (played by the fine character actor Stephen Tobolowsky) constantly berating him. At this point, it is clear that this guy is the filmís main character and, itís not too much of a stretch to assume this is a young Hank and the film will proceed to follow him as he grows into the historic musician, similar to the story line of Walk the Line. Alas, this assumption would prove to make one feel as like a donkeyís bottom, as it turns out Silas is the protagonist, who is so distanced from music that he doesnít even own a radio. He soon gets a job as a driver to bring some person in the music business to West Virginia. Now, the person he is tasked with transporting does turn out to be Hank. Alas, he is introduced and is referred to throughout nearly the entirety of the film as Luke Wells. Thus, as they begin their magical journey, the indifferent population seeing this film would likely be confused as to how these two journeying cross-country would have anything to do with a ĎHank Williamsí.
Past this initial confusion, there is still a laundry list of problems with this film. Itís pacing is the first to jump to mind. From the beginning, the film is satisfied meandering through the tale with no sense of rush or urgency. This is a huge problem when the main characterís objective is to get somewhere in a timely fashion. As Hankís inability to overcome his bad habits threatens their arrival time and the characters are becoming more desperate, the film fails to adjust and reflect its characters emotions, leaving a very blasť feel. A large portion of this can be blamed on the filmís editing, which is content to linger on shots much longer than necessary, boring the audience. At 102 minutes, the film feels overly long. On top of the editing, the film is also slow to jump into the plot. Once the pair hit the road, nothing important to character development seems to happen for another hour. We see Silasís naivety. We see Hankís poor ways. These are both illustrated just fine within minutes of meeting both. But, the first two-thirds of the film seem to be spent hitting this point over and over again. It is a shame, since once the film allows these characters to grow a bit, the cast and story are charming.
The worst problem, though, is that many points throughout the films feel forced, breaking the audienceís suspension of disbelief. The most obvious from a plot perspective is the supposed friendship forged by Hank and Silas. Close to the end of the film, Hank, nearly in tears, grabs Silas and explains heís never had a true friend before, implying that Silas is his first. Though the sentiment is nice, their relationship leading up to this point doesnít justify it. The worst offense occurs shortly after the pair realizes they wonít be able to make it to Charleston in time. Defeated, they enter a backwoods shop to call the man who had set up the event. Inside, they meet a jug band who welcomes their arrival. Silas makes the call to break the bad news and, though upset, the man in charge reveals that it was Hankís idea to hold the event and that none involved will be particularly hurt by their failure to make the trip. They are told to, instead, ride to Canton, Ohio to do a show the next day. So, despite the fact that they failed the mission given to them, there will be no ramifications that will hurt any of the main characters. As this was their goal, their failure should turn the film down beat and reflect their inability to act, but no one being hurt by their failure means that such a turn would feel inappropriate. The filmmakers, though, know that their failure should change the tone of the film. So, as Silas hangs up the phone, one of the members of the jug band goes into a melancholy diatribe about how a family member was mistreated by their work. The band then goes into a soulful piece and the music lingers as our heroes go out again on the road. The audience is supposed to feel as if something great has been lost, but it isnít due to the heroes failures. Rather, itís a cheap emotional speech with no backing in the world of the film other than to make the audience sad.
It is a bit of a shame that the film fails in so many places, especially since, as stated before, the film does have charm. The cast is strong throughout and believable in their roles. This includes Fred Thompson (Die Hard 2), who is always enjoyable with his stern but fair characters. There are also nice themes about innocence lost as Hank sees in Silas a version of himself uncorrupted by the music industry. The film also manages to balance some Christian messages without becoming heavy-handed (see my review of Seven Days in Utopia for when this can be a problem). Unfortunately, these bits of good canít save a film bogged down by a methodical plot and audience manipulation.