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Film: Last Man Standing

In a town with no justice, there is only one law: Every man for himself.

Last Man Standing is a 1996 action film, a cross between a Western and a hard-bitten Film Noir tale taking place in a dusty ghost town during Prohibition and effectively straddling the transitional period between the two. The plot is a remake of A Fistful of Dollars/Yojimbo.

"John Smith" (Bruce Willis) is a wandering gun-for-hire with few morals and a lot of ammo for his pair of .45s. The town, despite being a tiny speck in the middle of nowhere, is home to two fairly large gangs, as the town makes a convenient place to smuggle alcohol in from across the border. John immediately makes an impression on Irish gang leader Doyle by blasting the hell out of his best man Finn, and he is soon deeply caught up in the bitter and heated gang war. His presence does nothing to prevent tensions from getting out of hand. He befriends the town's barkeep and forms a sort of working relationship with the already corrupt sheriff, determined to milk the situation for all it's worth, but in the process finds himself helping out the girlfriends of the two gang leaders. Eventually he's informed by a Texas Ranger that the law will abide one gang in town, but not two, and when he returns in a few days' time there had better be one gang or no gangs, but definitely no John Smith.

Things go downhill from there.


Last Man Standing provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Achilles' Heel: John can't stand to leave a woman hurting. The sheriff even lampshades this tendency when he sees it in action.
    "You know something, amigo? I think I just spotted the chink in your armor. When you go down...it's gonna be over a skirt."
  • Anti-Hero: John is heavily implied to be a mob hitman fleeing a bad situation elsewhere in the states. He murders, steals, lies, and manipulates his way through the entire movie. But he has a soft spot for women and puts himself through pain and near-death to help them, and everyone he kills is corrupt at best.
  • Black and Grey Morality: John is definitely no saint, but at least he has some morals, unlike the gangsters he faces off against.
  • Blown Across the Room: Fate of many a mook.
  • Book Ends: The movie starts an ends with visually similar scenes and a character in the same situation: John, driving to Mexico without any money to his name.
  • Dead Guy on Display: The coffin maker "Smiley" displays the first guy Smith kills in the movie in his shop window dressed up like a corpse at a funeral to attract customers.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: John gets his car vandalized for looking at Doyle's girl. He responds by gunning down the man responsible. Justified as both men are establishing their Bad Ass credentials — the offense is irrelevant.
  • The Dragon: Hickey to Doyle. No one thinks much of Doyle, but they're terrified of Hickey. (Considering he's played by Christopher Walken, this is just good sense.)
  • The Dreaded: Hickey in spades.
  • Ear Ache: Strozzi had Lucy's ear cut off when she revealed her affair with Smith to him. It's implied this is when John decides to Kill 'em All.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: John has no qualms about lying, cheating, stealing, and murdering, but he abhors violence against women, and "likes sinners a whole lot better than saints".
  • Evil Versus Evil / False Flag Operation: The whole point of the movie, when John intersects the two tropes.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Smith's retaliation during an ambush against him when he is in bed.
  • Giant Mook: Among Doyle's gang.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Hickey has a pretty nasty long, vertical one around his right eye that partly goes over it.
  • Guns Akimbo: John Smith's style of gunplay.
  • Heads or Tails: John chooses to take the road to Jericho by spinning a flask of whiskey, then going in the direction it points.
  • In the Back: Hickey prefers to feign surrender by turning his back his enemies and asking them if they would shoot an unarmed man in the back. Then he draws a pistol and kills them.
  • Is That What They're Calling It Now?: When Smith first meets Lucy:
    John Smith: Strozzi said that he'd brought the girl along to keep up his morale. That's the first time I'd ever heard it called that.
  • Kill 'em All: After a Texas Ranger is gunned down, their leader decides enough is enough.
    Capt. Tom Pickett: I'm coming back here in ten days, and I'm gonna bring about twenty rangers with me. I will tolerate one gang, because that is the nature of things. A certain amount of corruption is inevitable. But if I find two gangs here when I get back, then in a couple of hours there will be no gangs here. So it's simple. One gang quits and goes home. You boys work it out. I don't give a damn which one.
    John Smith: Just so long as one side leaves, or maybe one side loses.
    Capt. Tom Pickett: That's fine, too, son. Kill as many as you want. Just don't kill no innocent people around here. I wouldn't like that.
    • John decides to take the "no gangs" option himself when he sees what was done to Lucy.
      "But you can know the rules and still do the wrong thing. The only thing I knew for sure was this: Strozzi, Doyle, and every son of a bitch who worked for 'em... they were all gonna be better off dead."
  • The Last Title: The title.
  • Mob War: A central driver of the plot, and like most Mob Wars this one is intensely destructive.
  • Morality Pet: Doyle thinks his Mexican lover is this for him, and that he has rescued her from poverty for the sake of love. But it's obvious he thinks of her as his property, referring to her just as "the girl".
  • Mr. Smith: No one even pretends that John Smith is his real name.
  • The Narrator: John Smith
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: John gets one from the Giant Mook.
  • Overkill: John never shoots someone just once.
    • Doyle has his entire gang open fire on just one man at one point.
  • Playing Both Sides: Smith is unlikely to make the cover of Loyalty Monthly, except as a warning.
  • Quick Draw: John Smith makes an impression this way. John's rapid gunplay remains important throughout the film.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Yojimbo, with Prohibition-era gangsters—whose liquor racket hews surprisingly close to the original.
  • Refuge in Audacity: If John Smith walked into a room and shot a dozen largely unaware mooks, and they died in anything vaguely like realistic fashion, he'd look like a monster. Since they fly across the room, crash out windows, and go rolling across the street, he just looks like a Badass.
  • The Roaring Twenties: The broader setting.
  • Rule of Cool: This movie walks up to physics and shoots it in the chest, causing it to lift off its feet as it goes flying backwards, crashes through a window, and rolls all away across the street to die in the dirt.
  • The Sheriff: Corrupt Sheriff Ed Galt.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Hickey.
  • Two Roads Before You: Happens literally in the opening scene, when John chooses the road to Jericho. The symbolism is lampshaded in the voiceover he's just given.
    "It's a funny thing, no matter how low you sink there's still a right and a wrong, and you always end up choosing. You go one way so you can try and live with yourself. You go the other, and still be walking around, but you're dead and don't know it."
  • Wretched Hive: Jericho, the setting, is without effective law and order — but well up on violent criminal enterprise. There is, in fact, nothing left in town but the gangs, the sheriff, a bartender, a prostitute, and the undertaker... and by the end of the movie, the undertaker's leaving.


KingpinFilms of the 1990sLoch Ness

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