The Last Ride

Bearing all the hallmarks of a small-budget labor of love, "The Last Ride" is a leisurely paced but modestly engaging road trip that gets considerable mileage from the byplay between its two lead characters.

With: Henry Thomas, Jesse James, Fred Dalton Thompson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon, James Hampton, Rick Dial, Kaley Cuoco.

Bearing all the hallmarks of a small-budget labor of love, “The Last Ride” is a leisurely paced but modestly engaging road trip that gets considerable mileage from the byplay between its two lead characters: country-music great Hank Williams, persuasively played by Henry Thomas as a feisty reprobate ravaged by illness and self-indulgence, and small-town naif Silas (Jesse James), who’s hired as driver for the ailing superstar during the final days of 1952. Pic doubtless will sell more soundtrack CDs than firstrun admission tickets, but could connect with Williams devotees as homevid fare.

Given the portentous title, even viewers unfamiliar with the real-life events that inspired the fictionalized script by Howie Klausner and Dub Cornett will know from the start where this indie drama is going and what will happen when it gets there. (An opening onscreen title notes: “Most of what follows is true.”) Still, helmer Harry Thomason is able to sustain interest in the predictable scenario by focusing on the slowly evolving relationship between mismatched traveling companions.

Popular on Variety

As Williams (who identifies himself throughout the pic only by aliases “Luke” or “Mr. Wells”), Thomas shrewdly underplays a part that easily could have brought out the hambone in a lesser thesp. Ashen-faced, unsteady of step and given to violent coughing fits, he comes across as a battered wreck who’s ambulatory only through sheer force of will. At the same time, however, Thomas conveys enough vigorous sass and intimidating authority to make it clear that, even if Williams is going to hell in a hand basket — or, to be more specific, a powder-blue Cadillac Eldorado — he’ll damn sure set the course and enjoy the trip. (It should be noted that the real Hank Williams was 29 at the time the pic takes place but, by all reports, looked even older than Thomas does here.)

Silas, an unhappily employed mechanic, impulsively pounces on the job opportunity when a stranger (Ray McKinnon) offers cash to anyone willing to drive “Mr. Wells” from Montgomery, Ala., to stops in West Virginia and Ohio. Trouble is, Silas, who doesn’t know his passenger’s true identity, is almost laughably ill equipped to fulfill another requirement of the job. Charged with keeping Wells clean and sober, he can only look on helplessly as the fading hellraiser seizes every opportunity to imbibe.

Despite the presence of McKinnon and other supporting players — most notably, Fred Dalton Thompson as Williams’ stressed manager and Kaley Cuoco as Silas’ fleeting romantic interest — “The Last Ride” is, for all practical purposes, a two-hander. Thomas is unquestionably the star of the piece, but James is more than adequate as the callow but good-hearted foil who slowly gains Williams’ respect and friendship.

Production values suggest the filmmakers had ready access to period-appropriate props, costumes and locations (the pic was shot entirely in Arkansas) but lacked a budget for anything more than rudimentary special effects. Thomas isn’t called upon to sing, and there are no Hank Williams recordings on the soundtrack. But other artists — including Jett Williams, Hank’s daughter — can be heard singing Williams compositions, and Johnny Cash’s rendition of “The Night Hank Williams Came to Town” is effectively employed during the closing credits.

The Last Ride

Production: A Category One release of a Live Bait Entertainment and Mozark Films production. Produced by Dub Cornett, Douglas G. Jackson, Benjy Gaither. Executive producers, Tim Jackson, Rodney Stone, Harry Thomason, Benjamin Gaither. Co-producers, Charlie Dicus, Chad O'Connor, James Castle, Dwight Jackson. Directed by Harry Thomason. Screenplay, Howie Klausner, Dub Cornett.

Crew: Camera (color), Jim Roberson; editor, Leo Papin; music, Benjy Gaither; production designer, Dwight Jackson; set decorators, Traci Kirschbaum, Mel Cooper; costume designer, Doug Hall; sound (Dolby Digital), Dick Hansen; associate producer, Hall; assistant director, Linda Rockstroh; casting, Fran Bascom. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, June 12, 2012. (In 2011 Nashville Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 105 MIN.

With: With: Henry Thomas, Jesse James, Fred Dalton Thompson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon, James Hampton, Rick Dial, Kaley Cuoco.

More Film

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

  • Little Women Movie

    'Little Women,' 'Fleabag' Win USC Scripter Awards

    Greta Gerwig’s script for “Little Women” has won the USC Libraries Scripter Award for best movie adaptation and “Fleabag” has taken the television award. The winners were announced Saturday night at USC’s Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. “Little Women” topped “Dark Waters,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and “The Two Popes.” All but environmental drama [...]

  • Four Good Days

    'Four Good Days': Film Review

    Addiction, you could say (and I would), has become the central demon that plagues Americans. We’re addicted to everything: alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, psychotropic drugs, sugar-bomb soft drinks, processed food, video screens…you name it. In theory, addiction was made for drama, because it rips up the fabric of people’s lives, and that’s intensely dramatic. [...]

  • Netflix backed animated films “Klaus,” left,

    'Klaus,' 'I Lost My Body' Top 47th Annie Awards as Netflix Dominates

    Netflix dominated the 47th Annie Awards on Saturday, Jan. 25, picking up 19 trophies, including the top prizes of best feature (“Klaus”), best feature-independent (“I Lost My Body”), best TV/media production for preschool children (“Ask the Storybots”) and best general audience TV/media production (“BoJack Horseman”). Disney TV Animation’s “Disney Mickey Mouse” won best TV/media production [...]

  • Disney Myth A Frozen Tale

    ‘Frozen 2’-Inspired VR Film ‘Myth’ Creates Beautifully Immersive ‘Fairy Tale Within a Fairy Tale’

    With “Myth: A Frozen Tale,” Disney Animation has crafted a visually stunning virtual-reality short film — a project that flexes its VR muscles but deftly uses the technology in service of storytelling. Sometimes VR experiences feel like proof-of-concepts straining to justify their 3D settings. “Myth,” by contrast, employs virtual reality so effectively it feels like [...]

  • 'Dick Johnson is Dead' Review: Kirsten

    'Dick Johnson is Dead': Film Review

    Death isn’t wasted on the dead, exactly, but much that follows in its black-veiled wake is: A heartfelt eulogy, after all, is often composed of warm words we should have shared with the deceased before they turned cold. Eighties soft-rock band Mike and the Mechanics had a #1 hit with this very observation, of course: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content