Bruce Willis starred in the Yojimbo remake Last Man Standing, which is streaming on Tubi.
For decades, Bruce Willis reigned over Hollywood as one of its kings of action, alongside his friends/rivals/Planet Hollywood co-founders Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. In fact, Bruce Willis made so many action movies that the fact that he remade one of the classic Japanese films of all time with a legendary director can be easily forgotten. However, his film Last Man Standing, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, exists and is streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Last Man Standing stars Bruce Willis as “John Smith,” a drifter who drives into a tiny border town in Texas sometime in the 1930s. It turns out this little sepia nothing of a town is currently the center of a war between two rival gangs, an Irish mob headed by Doyle (David Patrick Kelly, best known for The Crow and Twin Peaks) and an Italian one led by Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg of the Law & Order franchise). In swift order, Bruce Willis (it is clear that his character is using a pseudonym, Man with No Name-style) gets his car trashed by the Irish, effortlessly kills one in a duel, seduces Strozzi’s mistress (Alexandra Powers), and gets on the bad side of a visiting Chicago gangster (Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos and The White Lotus).
Plus, Christopher Walken is there as a scar-faced, machine-gun-toting mob enforcer, which is always good for audiences and bad for anyone in his way. Last Man Standing is a treasure trove of character actors, from the bartender (William Sanderson of Blade Runner and Deadwood) who unwisely befriends Bruce Willis, a sheriff cowed by the local gangs (Bruce Dern of The Hateful Eight and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and a local prostitute who gets caught between schemes (Leslie Mann of Knocked Up and This is 40).
Last Man Standing is an authorized remake of Yojimbo, the 1961 samurai classic starring Toshiro Mifune as a ronin who pits two gangs against each other by playing each side. The original film is regarded as one of the finest pieces of filming pretty much ever, which apparently both intimidated and enticed director Walter Hill, who was already known for hardbitten classics like the Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte movie 48 Hours and The Warriors.
Yojimbo had actually already been unofficially remade as the Clint Eastwood film A Fistful of Dollars (causing a lawsuit), and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai had been turned into The Magnificent Seven. Since the Japanese filmmaker’s movies had already been turned into Western films, Walter Hill instead landed on a 1930s gangster theme, which was an inspired choice. At the very least, you get to see a nattily dressed Bruce Willis double-fisting guns in what seems to be an homage to the traditional two swords of a samurai.
Last Man Standing is a dark film, in a way that few movies really have the stomach for. While “gritty” has become a very over-used term, there is really no other way to describe this particular mix of action, betrayal, and Christopher Walken. This is not a particularly realistic movie, but something about its approach to violence is weirdly affecting in the way that CGI gunfire never could be. Numerous torture scenes are queasily, and mercilessly portrayed, and the unfortunate mistress who gets involved with Bruce Willis loses an ear; it is telling of this movie that we do not see it cut off, but we graphically see the wound and hear how it all went down.
Last Man Standing came at one of the many peaks of Bruce Willis’ long career, after the revival of Pulp Fiction and the creative heights of 12 Monkeys, and before the science fiction romp The Fifth Element and the commercial blockbuster of Armageddon. Of course, Bruce Willis is legendary for making more than his share of mediocre movies, so Mercury Rising, The Jackal, and Nobody’s Fool also got made in those intervening years. Though he may be sadly retired now, at his height, nobody took on more work than Bruce Willis.
Last Man Standing was a commercial disappointment, making $47 million at the box office against a $67 million budget. It was also tepidly received by critics, currently holding 39% at Rotten Tomatoes. It has yet to receive a revival, but really, it is about time. Especially when you can see it for free.