The Last of the Finest
September 15, 2011
The Last of the Finest (1990) is one of those films that you end up discovering on television late at night when there’s nothing else on and you can’t sleep. It has the feel of a generic cop show, something Michael Mann might’ve knocked off in his spare time, but the cast of recognizable character actors says otherwise. It is also a good-looking film thanks to Juan Ruiz Anchia’s (Glengarry Glen Ross) moody cinematography. For example, the film opens on an establishing shot of Los Angeles at dusk, surrounded by palm trees that immediately immerse you in the atmosphere of the world that director John Mackenzie (The Long Good Friday) creates.
Frank Daly (Dennehy) is the leader of a tight-knit group of Los Angeles police officers as evident from the game of touch football they play together during their off hours. He is the elder statesman and is clearly getting too old for this shit, judging by how he falls asleep while taking a bath after the game. This group is so close that they even party together with their families, which offers a glimpse of Brian Dennehy’s hilariously awful dance moves. Wayne Gross (Pantoliano) is the abrasive one, Ricky Rodriguez (Fahey) is the good-looking one with a moral conscience (which gradually disappears once they all go rogue), and Howard Jones (Paxton) is the jokester.
At work, Frank orchestrates large drug busts that no one else is willing to touch. One night, he and his crew go after a drug operation run by Anthony Reece and that is hidden under a meat packing company front. However, they go in without a warrant or back-up much to the chagrin of their boss Captain Joe Torres (Darrow) who is tired of their screwball antics. Not surprisingly, Frank and his crew are suspended. Of course, they defy this and go after Reece, which, predictably ends badly for one of them. Now it’s personal with Frank and his guys making it their mission in life to take Reece down at all costs. So, they all quit and become vigilantes, robbing crooks to fund their own personal vendetta against Reece.
Much like To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), The Last of the Finest opts for an offbeat depiction of the city, avoiding the usual, traditional landmarks we’ve seen a million times before for a more authentic portrayal of the sections where these guys live and work while still showcasing the distinctive flavor of the town.
The Last of the Finest’s screenplay resembles an average T.V. cop show with very little characterization, cliché dialogue and plot turns you can see coming a mile away. And yet, at times the script does a nice job of capturing how these cops act and speak around each other, especially a close crew like these guys. The solid cast of actors does their best to make it work. It doesn’t hurt to have the likes of Brian Dennehy, Joe Pantoliano, Jeff Fahey, and Bill Paxton as a contemporary version of the Untouchables, a group of incorruptible cops that get the job done. Mackenzie provides workman-like direction right out of T.V. but fortunately the cinematography elevates it. At the end of the day, this film has its heart in the right place but is a little too generic in parts for its own good. It is saved from being merely direct to home video fare by the impressive cast who go a long way to making it watchable.