HAL ASHBY’S THE LAST DETAIL — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Released in 1973 and featuring an absolutely fantastic screenplay by Robert Towne, The Last Detail found Ashby doing some of his best mixing of comedy and drama, with results that are piercing and at times brutal. Starring Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as two sailors who are tasked with escorting one of their own (Randy Quaid, fantastic) to a military prison in New England, The Last Detail is one of those amazingly observed character studies that’s wholly interested in human behavior and how the bonds of friendship are tested in ways that the characters could never expect. The three men have all sorts of adventures along the way to their destination, and the final act involves some decisions that are as smart as they are sad, because you fully believe in the story and the people who populate it. Towne adapted the screenplay from the 1970 novel written by Darryl Ponicsan, which would became famous for a copious amount of “F-bombs,” and which would solidify Towne’s status as one of the premiere screenwriters of his generation. Shot in muted tones with a naturalistic sensibility by the great cinematographer Michael Chapman, the film has a terrific sense of time and place, with Ashby’s understanding of tone and pacing in full effect. Nominated for three Academy Awards (Nicholson, Quaid, and Towne), the film would become a critical and commercial success, and would also find Nicholson winning Best Actor at The Cannes Film Festival. Now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

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