Charlie (Alastair Mackenzie) is driving to Skye to burn down his wife’s lover’s house. En route he inadvertently picks up a gigolo on the run, Vince (Jonny Phillips). The unwelcome company proves uncomfortable enough in the car, but once the odd couple run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere, their journey takes an even more uneasy, unexpected turn.
The Last Great Wilderness is another clever low-budget Scottish drama that romps about in tone, style and genre, and shows some graceful shifts from noir to buddy movie, and from horror to tragedy. It may be hyped as a grim relation to The Wicker Man(1973), but that comparison, while representing the genuine feeling of paranoia the film creates, ignores the deft touch and comic timing of the script. This is without doubt one of the most laugh-heavy non-comedies since Scorsese’s underappreciated Bringing Out The Dead (1999). MacKenzie’s debut treads similar ground, albeit in a rather more rural setting, to Scorsese’s dark tale of redemption. Both films delight in placing their softly-spoken heroes in manic, hyper-surreal situations. From a heart-warming scene of a game of swingball between a paedophile priest and a child, to a tranvestite wake, this film certainly takes you to places you have never been before.
Alastair MacKenzie’s Charlie is an unlikely lad, a cuckold who lets his better judgment be superceded by his quiet nature. The film frequently goes out of its way to highlight Charlie’s real and metaphorical impotency. He is often admitting, due to farcical circumstances, that he hasn’t recently had sex. His car is without fuel, merely home to a series of empty canisters. He is a British lead far removed from Michael Caine’s promiscuous Alfie (1966) or Jack Carter in Get Carter (1971), naked save for a double-barrelled shotgun. Yet he is not alone. We meet agrophobics, voyeurs and a hunter who hasn’t fired his gun in three years at the retreat where Charlie and Vince take refuge. In a jump-cut that would have made Hitch himself smirk, a semi-erect penis abandoned after an unfinished sex session is juxtaposed with a fried egg being sliced in half for breakfast.
Impotency is the main theme of The Last Great Wilderness, but not an essentially masculine or sexual one. The MacKenzies, while delivering a rare British film that is both generic, entertaining, suprising and intelligent, have also silently moved their film onto a specific topic: euthanasia. We are presented with three cases through the film where action needs to be taken. Firstly, an old lady who requests an assisted suicide are followed by a second and third of which I will not reveal for fear of spoiling some of the film’s many twists. Essentially we are presented with three extremes where nothing can be done except to end suffering. Each time we feel the devastating toll of the act, both for the dying themselves, and for those that help end their pain. But if in the middle of nowhere it becomes acceptable to make a hard but compassionate choice, to become potent in the face of death, then why, one can feel the creative team ask, is it not so back in civilisation? Weighty stuff, deftly handled, which only serves to reinforce another damn fine piece of Scottish cinema.