×

Film Review: ‘Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison’

Dwight Little's sturdily constructed true-crime drama showcases a potent performance by Robert Patrick as a mood-swinging sociopath.

Director:
Dwight Little
With:
Robert Patrick, Heather Graham, Bruce Davison, Alex MacNicoll, Molly C. Quinn, Skyy Moore, Casey Thomas Brown, Chris Browning, Jason Richter, William Shockley, John Heard.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5833186/

There’s something incontestably impressive about the no-frills efficiency of “Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison,” a sturdily constructed and scrupulously well-cast slice of meat-and-potatoes filmmaking that calls to mind above-average made-for-cable movies of the 1990s. Based on the 1988 book of the same name by James W. Clarke, this engrossing true-crime drama is potently propelled by Robert Patrick’s full-tilt performance as Gary Tison, a purposefully ingratiating sociopath who reveals his true monstrousness to his naïve sons only after they help him escape from Arizona State Prison, and enhanced by solid contributions from supporting players Bruce Davison, Heather Graham and, briefly, the late John Heard. Director Dwight Little (“Free Willy,” “Rapid Fire”), another seasoned pro, seals the deal by keeping the narrative brisk and suspenseful, even while he covers familiar territory.

After starting out with a miscalculated flashforward that gives the game away a tad too early, Little smoothly doubles back to July 30, 1978, to show moody twentysomething Donnie Tyson (Alex MacNicoll) and his impressionable younger siblings, Ricky (Skyy Moore) and Ray (Casey Thomas Brown), all-too-easily smuggling guns into the Arizona prison on visitors’ day to free their beloved dad, who’s serving a life sentence for killing a prison guard, and Randy (Chris Browning), Gary’s unstable fellow inmate.

Over a period of several years, the brothers have been browbeaten by their self-deluded mother, Dorothy (Graham), and charmed by their incarcerated father, to the point of sincerely believing Gary is an unfortunate, and innocent, victim of circumstance. (“Sometimes, good men listen to bad ones,” Dorothy defiantly insists during a police interrogation.) But the longer they’re on the run, the clearer it is to Donnie that, while Randy is scarily unpredictable, Gary is something even more dangerous: a stone-cold killer who thinks nothing of gunning down men, women and infants whenever they need a new vehicle as they make toward a safe haven in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Cooper (Davison), a grizzled lawman with a personal grudge against Gary, ramrods a manhunt that takes him from the office of a lax and defensive prison warden (Heard, splendidly vivid in a one-scene cameo) to edgy encounters with a novice reporter (Molly C. Quinn) who’s slow to recognize that Dorothy may be as manipulative as her husband. There are moments when Davison seems to be offering a variation of Jeff Bridges’ trademark cynical galoots, a strategy that suits the movie just fine.

Patrick strikes a shrewd balance of thunderous rage and soft-spoken authority while intensely portraying Gary as a perversely righteous paterfamilias who demands unquestioning fealty from his sons, and relies on death threats when blood ties are no longer sufficient. Gary’s what-the-hell, matter-of-fact approach to bloodletting makes his violent behavior all the more jolting — and definitely more unsettling than Randy’s eager sadism — and Patrick fearlessly refuses to seek even a smidgen of sympathy for his character. He squeezes every last drop of juice from the screenplay by Alvaro Rodriguez and Jason Rosenblatt — which, not incidentally, gives him almost all of the best lines. (During the prison break, Gary warns a prison employee: “I won’t hesitate to paint the walls the color God gave you.”)

Effectively decked out in large, period-perfect eyeglasses, Graham plays Dorothy as a zealously supportive wife and mother whose willful blindness is a source of strength. She’s inconsolably devastated when her eyes are opened. Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, they don’t stay open for very long.

Incidentally: The events depicted in “Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison” previously inspired a well-received 1983 TV-movie, “A Killer in the Family,” which starred Robert Mitchum as Gary Tison, and James Spader, Lance Kerwin and Eric Stoltz as his sons.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison'

Reviewed online, Houston, Sept. 20, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: An Epic Pictures release of a Rampage Films production. Producers: Eric M. Breiman, Robert Patrick. Executive producers: Dwight Little, Alex Hertzberg.

Crew: Director: Dwight Little. Screenplay: Alvaro Rodriguez, Jason Rosenblatt, based on the book by James W. Clarke. Camera (color): Rafael Leyva. Editor: Bill Lynch. Music: Tobias Enhus, Richard Patrick.

With: Robert Patrick, Heather Graham, Bruce Davison, Alex MacNicoll, Molly C. Quinn, Skyy Moore, Casey Thomas Brown, Chris Browning, Jason Richter, William Shockley, John Heard.

More Film

  • Cat in the Wall Movie Sarajevo

    Sarajevo Film Festival Builds Bridges Through Art

    Rising from the rubble of the Bosnian War to become one of Southeastern Europe’s leading film and TV industry events, the Sarajevo Film Festival has plenty to celebrate as it marks its 25th edition this year. The festival was established in 1995 during the four-year siege of Sarajevo as part of an effort to help [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]

  • Patricia Louisiana Knop Dead: Screenwriter Was

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop Dies at 78

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop, who collaborated with her producer-director husband Zalman King on erotically-charged films of the late 1980s and 1990s including “Siesta” and “9 1/2 Weeks,” died Aug. 7 in Santa Monica after a lengthy illness. “9 1/2 Weeks,” starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, was directed by Adrian Lyne, co-produced by King and [...]

  • (L-R) NELL WILLIAMS as Eliza, VIVEIK

    How 'Blinded by the Light' Brought Bruce Springsteen's Music to the Screen for a Song

    Blinded by the Light co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider. Born in Kenya when the country was a British colony, she grew up part of the Indian/Asian diaspora who made their way from East Africa to London. For that reason, the 59-year-old’s movies has always dealt with the [...]

  • Studio Movie Grill Announces New Theater

    Studio Movie Grill Announces New Los Angeles-Area Dine-In Theater (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Studio Movie Grill circuit will open a new dine-in theater in the Glendale, Calif. Arts District, CEO Brian Schultz announced Friday. The new theater complex will be 60,000 square feet with 10 screens and will take the place of the former location of the MGN 5-Star Cinema, located near the Glendale Galleria, in the [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Fall Movie Preview 2019: From 'It: Chapter 2' to 'Little Women'

    Summer may be ending, but that doesn’t mean there will be a dearth of content at the multiplexes. On the contrary, studios are filling up theaters with Oscar-season content, popcorn fare and family films through the end of the year. From Greta Gerwig’s star-studded “Little Women” adaptation to the highly anticipated sequel to “It,” Variety [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content