The Last Rampage – Film Review
*This review follows a private screening of the film by 4Digital Media Limited and a copy of the film will be gifted.
With an opening scene referencing a quote from Exodus 20:5 in the Bible, regarding the punishment of the sins of the fathers onto their children, and a sepia coloured photograph of three young boys, The Last Rampage, essentially sets out its underlying themes from the outset. By doing so, an insight is given into the events that unfold within this true crime film depicting the true story of Gary Tison’s attempted prison escape.
The audience is introduced to Gary Tison briefly, who is played by Robert Patrick, in the following scene in which he is isolated in a desert and may or may not be rapidly descending into madness. His dishevelled appearance and the traces of blood on his body hint at a violent struggle. At such point, the film returns to the events that occurred three weeks earlier, in the summer of 1978, by way of background.
Assisted by his three sons, the convicted criminal Gary Tison undertook a successful prison break. The style of the film at that stage resembles other true crime dramas as it simplifies the escape but does not resort to documentary style footage for its storytelling. There are heavy guitar chords played during the scene, with a country and western twang which serve to highlight the dramatic elements and emphasise the location, which is Arizona state. The aim is for the father, sons and Randy Greenawalt to attempt to evade arrest by travelling to Mexico.
Co-produced by Robert Patrick, the film explores the dynamic between the father and sons compared to the reality of Gary Tison as the convicted criminal as they aim to arrive in Mexico. The elements of Tison’s criminality are exposed further in the scenes with Randy, his former inmate, as they leave a trail of corpses in their midst. As a result, the sons question their loyalty to their father and whether they truly knew him as a man. The hand-held cinematography within the car scenes following the initial escape assist in highlighting that tension between the brothers’ misguided sense of loyalty and their moral compass.
There are some beautiful aerial shots of the desert sunrise and sunset in the intermittent scenes outside of the location of their house arrest, whilst being on the run, which serve as a useful distraction for the audience. There also seems to be an emphasis on the levels of isolation encountered when on the run. Whilst the surrounding desert areas are extremely remote, there is the pervading theme of being alone as very often their car is the only one driving on the road!
Heather Graham portrays Tison’s long-suffering wife, Dorothy, and is almost unrecognisable in the role. I would have preferred to view more scenes with her character, which seemed underused in the film. As a result, Heather Graham does not seem to be stretched to her best ability in the role.
The pace of the film is overall quite slow and the violence is gratuitous without building up sufficient dramatic tension. There is an ongoing police pursuit throughout, however this does not seem to be fully developed within the film. It is only within the final scenes that the police presence can be seen fully. For me, this would have been a more compelling direction for the film if there had been a cat and mouse chase ensuing due to the police pursuit. The character development is also lacking for, whilst it is obvious that Gary Tison’s actions within the film are reprehensible, especially during one scene involving a very young child, it did not provoke a strong enough negative reaction towards the character. This scene unfortunately seemed quite factual rather than being emotional.
It is only in the moments of tenderness and sibling protection observed between the brothers that the film adjusts its objective viewpoint to provide more emotional insight. Personally, I would have preferred to see more scenes of this nature, especially as the film ends on the same note it began with the display of the sepia coloured photo of the three brothers.
As this true crime event was unfamiliar to me, it was interesting to read the epilogue, as two of the sons are still imprisoned, and to view the real-life photos of Gary Tison and others providing further background. However, the film was ultimately lacking in substance for me, particularly without the context. Improvements could perhaps have been made by the use of more close up footage, to draw the audience into the world of the characters, and greater character development.
The Last Rampage will be released in the UK on DVD and digital on 3 June 2019