Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Last American Hero

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE LAST AMERICAN HERO

6/10

USA 1973, dir. Lamont Johnson, 100m

Jeff Bridges’ spellbinding central performance is the main selling point of this enjoyable, reasonably well-directed stock-car-racing picture. He’s thoroughly convincing as laid-back Junior Jackson, 22-year-old Carolina backwoods boy from a moonshining family who puts the skills he sharpened avoiding the cops on the dirt-roads to more profitable use on the racetrack. Director Johnson strikes a well-judged balance between off-track character development and racing action, the latter gaining a resonant smack of authenticity by being filmed at real race-meetings in the south and occasionally reaching Altmanesque levels of rough-edged immediacy. Bridges is just as compelling at the wheel – the car’s vibrations blurring his youthful, determined features – as he is way from it, effortlessly building a performance out of inspired, unmannered, apparently throwaway touches. Watch for the way he peels and eats an orange in a supermarket, or pokes a thumb-up gesture through the mesh of his racing-car window. And there’s a terrific, brief scene at a still between Bridges and his brother (Gary Busey), that says more in two wordless minutes that A Simple Plan managed in two talky hours. If the film can’t build up these brilliant moments into an equally satisfactory whole, that’s the fault of the underdeveloped script, based on a series of articles Tom Wolfe wrote about the real-life racer Junior Johnson. Johnson’s actual story is much more exciting and dramatic than this bafflingly semi-skimmed film version, which builds to a jarring anti-climax.

by Neil Young