Monday, July 6, 2009
The Last Detail (1973)
By Eric Jessen 7/5/09
Billy “Bad ass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) is a snarly, boozing career sailor. Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) is a naïve and timid sailor being sent to jail for petty pointless thefts. They seem completely different and yet deep down they are the same – depressed and afraid.
“Bad ass” and “Mule” Mulhall, an equally sour career sailor, finally have a job to do and it's not doing “shit detail” at the “shit hole” (their naval base) like they're used to. They've got a special job. They have to escort eighteen year old sailor Larry Meadows to the brig (navy prison). Meadows has been sentenced to 8 years in prison with a dishonorable discharge for attempting to steal 40 dollars from a polio fund box. Meadows is quiet and unassuming so “Bad ass” Buddusky and “Mule” think they have an easy job. Buddusky sees this as a good time while traveling across the county to have fun. The only problem for Buddusky is that something about the trip with Meadows scares him.
Buddusky notices that Meadows doesn't care about being sent to prison. He surmises that Meadows is just afraid of being independent. Meadows is a childlike idiot and he needs to be told what to do. Buddusky's solution is to show Meadows a good time and let him experience the finer things in life. He gets him drunk, takes him ice skating, “gets him laid” (with a young whore played with great melancholy by Carol Kane) and Meadows enjoys it. By the end we and Buddusky realize that Meadows has grown. He has broken out of his shell and values his life. This makes it all the more difficult for Buddusky to send Meadows to jail.
Meadows, Buddusky and “Mule” all have a fantastic time on their trip, but by the end depression sets in. Meadows now dreads being sent to jail. Buddusky and “Mule's” trip with Meadows reminds them of how disappointed they are with their life at the naval base. They're as trapped at the “shit hole” as Meadows will be in prison. They hate the “shit hole” but they can't live without it. They're career sailors, it's all they know. But they'll wait and wait for their next chance to hit the sea. They're probably in a weird way hoping for a war to break out.
The Last Detail is a must see movie. It's a fascinating character study. I feel like I know these characters. I want to keep thinking about them and writing about them. We see Meadows grow as a character which is rare in movies. But despite all that you should watch this movie because of Jack Nicholson. Jack is perfect for this role. He is angry and showy. He is once again so raw and vivid and so human that he's funny. He produces a nervous laugh that makes you think he's going to burst out of the screen. Jack's Buddusky doesn't know what he wants but he knows he wants something, and now. He's angry, bitter, afraid. He's a mess of emotions. As a result he drinks, he snarls and curses and wants people desperately to keep calling him “Bad ass.”
Buddusky, Meadows and “Mule” live as we live – in fear of the world they don't understand – but they seek vices for help and eventually they learn from each other