Strangely Subtle And Touching,
This review is from: The Last Detail [DVD]  (DVD)
This 1973 'road movie' directed by maverick (and frequently 'out of control' - see Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls for details) film-maker Hal Ashby, with a script by Robert Towne (who wrote Chinatown) is an interesting little curiosity. For anyone wanting shoot-em-up thrills (or even major plot developments) this is probably not the film for you - however, instead we have a very low key drama as Jack Nicholson and Otis Young, playing, respectively, Navy petty officers Billy ('badass') Buddusky and Richard Mulhall, accompany Randy Quaid's 18-year old Navy 'rookie', Larry Meadows, across the US (from Virginia to Portsmouth, New Hampshire) where he is due to serve 8-years in the 'brig', with DD (dishonourable discharge), for attempting to pilfer $40 from a charity collection box. And although Ashby and Towne's film (and Darryl Ponicsan's novel on which it was based) is essentially an inconsequential (and, now, rather dated) tale of 'lads' antics', plus an element of 'coming of age' for Meadows, by the end I realised that The Last Detail is actually increasingly affecting (largely as a result of the film's central three acting performances).
Nicholson is, as ever, impressive as the (variously) disdainful, manic and cool Buddusky - and, although the man's performance is not of the stature of his turn two years later, it is perfectly conceivable to imagine Buddusky here 'becoming' Randle P McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Indeed, the navy man here tries to facilitate Meadows 'losing his cherry' (as he did for Brad Dourif's Billy in the later film). The (still) newcomer Quaid is also very good here as the 'innocent', apologetic, religious and 'wimpy' Larry, whose troubled upbringing begins to elicit his colleagues' (and the viewers') sympathy. Young delivers probably the most 'ordinary' of the three central performances - though still solid. Narrative-wise, the film is admittedly fairly predictable (though frequently very funny), as our 'anti-hero trio' happen upon (in sequence) a 'redneck' bartender, a visit to Larry's (empty) maternal home, a railway station washroom altercation with some marines, a 'new age hippy' (Buddhist) party (chanting and all - during which the film's political backdrop is revealed with talk of Nixon and Vietnam) and a (pretty much mandatory) visit to a whorehouse (for Larry's benefit).
Narrative predictability aside, however, by the time Buddusky and Mulhall present their charge to the officious marine authorities at Portsmouth, Ashby has (via the brilliant scene with Michael Moriarty's marine duty officer) distilled a brilliant summation of the pair's accumulated frustration (with life) and how much they feel for Meadows' (forthcoming) plight. I was certainly left feeling that Ashby's film had somehow transcended any sense of 'low-key predictability' into something greater than the sum of its parts.