Last Resort

When is a submarine thriller not just a submarine thriller? Well, in this case, when it’s also an allegory of right-wing American imperialism – which is definitely what I liked most about Last Resort. In this short-lived TV show (only 13 episodes were made), Andre Braugher stars as the captain of the USS Colorado who is forced off the grid when he becomes a pawn in an attempt by forces within the Washington military-industrial complex to take over the government.

The following review is offered as part of Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.

With The Shield, Shawn Ryan probably created TV’s best police procedural since Homicide: Life on the Streets (well, until the debut of The Wire anyway). To play the lead in Last Resort, his oblique take on American imperialism masquerading as a seafaring nuclear thriller, Murphy got Homicide’s breakout star, the mighty Andre Braugher (supported by such Shield alumni as Jay Karnes and David Rees Snell). He plays the submarine captain trialling new radar-busting technology whose loyalty is sorely tested when ordered to nuke Pakistan. He is promptly branded a traitor and relieved of command, but when even his Lieutenant (Scott Speedman) asks for ratification, the sub gets shot at. Forced off the grid, they resurface at a NATO listening station on the island of ‘Sainte Marina’ (actually, Hawaii). There they face on-board mutinies and trouble on the ground from the locals while back in Washington politicians, arms dealers and families of the ‘mutineers’ scramble in what ultimately develops into an attempted coup d’état.

Despite clunky dialogue (maritime similes abound) and repetitive plotting to get the sub in jeopardy every week, there is also some smashing CGI (especially in the pilot, directed with his usual pizzazz by Martin Campbell, another Homicide veteran) and plenty of metatextual uplift in this topical riff on Crimson Tide and Seven Days in May for the Snowden, Assange and Chelsea Manning era.

Standout instalments include a chemical attack told in non-chronological order (incorporating a nice homage to Vertigo) and a genuinely nasty scenario where Pakistani commandos retaliate by taking hostage the visiting families of the crew. Despite swift cancellation, the nihilistic finale satisfyingly wraps up the story.

DVD Availability: Easy to find DVD or streaming options.

Director: Martin Campbell, Kevin Hooks, Michael Offer
Producer: Shawn Ryan, Jean Higgins
Screenplay: Shawn Ryan, Karl Gajdusek, Eileen Myers (and others)
Cinematography: Krishna Rao
Art Direction: James H. Spencer
Music: Robert Duncan
Cast: Andre Braugher, Daisy Betts, Scott Speedman, Camille De Pazzis, Jay Karnes, David Rees Snell

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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20 Responses to Last Resort

  1. Colin says:

    I’ve not heard of this before for some reason. However, I like Sub dramas, confinement usually ups the drama quotient, so I’ll look out for this.

  2. tracybham says:

    We really liked this series when it was showing on TV, and have bought it so we can watch it again. I had not thought of comparing it to Crimson Tide or Seven Days in May but those two are also favorites in our household. One reason we were interested in this initially was because of Andre Braugher; the second reason was my husband is partial to submarine movies, although not much time is spent on the sub.

    • Glad it wasn’t just me that liked it! Yes, after the pilot it is mostly on the island, which makes sens3 dramatically but points to why the basic sub premise could never last that long.

  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    There is something about the atmosphere of a sub, Sergio. I remember hearing about this series, but didn’t watch it when it was airing. It’s not the sort of show I’d normally go for, but a well-structured show’s a well-structured show…

  4. Paula Carr says:

    How did I miss this? I’m a big Andre Braugher fan! But was it a network show? I hardly watch any of those anymore. Nice that they were actually able to wrap up the series when it was cancelled. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

  5. John says:

    Very surprised I never caught at least one episode. I vaguely remember seeing one or two promos for it. We watch ABC almost exclusively because theirs is the best network news (least tabloid style, best genuine reporting) in Chicago. Just checked and learned the series aired five years ago (Sept 2012 through Jan 2013) so that explains everything. I tend not to remember much about TV shows more than a few years. Such an intelligent adult TV show for ABC…reminding me of another.

    You ought to check out American Crime, one of the best TV shows from ABC and all of US network TV, IMO. The first and second seasons were the best. This past season focussed on illegal immigration, abuse of migrant farm workers and domestics, and life in the sex-for-pay world. The entire third season was intended as an exploration of 21st century forms of slavery. It wasn’t as good as the previous seasons since it tended to be too episodic and had multiple crime stories rather than having all the characters’ lives tie into one overarching story of a single crime. Still, it had quite a few compelling individual performances and one or two trenchant often shocking episodes.

  6. John says:

    UGH! I tried to leave a comment and it didn’t post. Probably because I used HTML and screwed it up (as usual). But I simply can’t type it all over again. Maybe you can retrieve it from your WordPress spam filter?

  7. Thanks for the review, Sergio. This one came and went before I noticed it. These days, there’s just too much good stuff on the tube to keep up with. Now, I will get this one on DVD. I liked THE SHIELD a great series and a true, modern noir. Looking forward to LAST RESORT.

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