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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Ultimate Test of Character

In the movie "The Last Stand," currently in theaters, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owens.  As there seems to be little crime in the small town of Sommerton Junction, Arizona, most view him as little more than a figurehead.  No one, not even the mayor, shows him any respect.  When Owens points out that the mayor has parked his brand new Camero ZL1 in the fire lane, the man tosses him the keys, before accompanying the school sports team to a local game.  He simply cannot imagine anything—even a fire—disturbing the peace in their quiet little town.

Likewise, Owens’ deputies don’t regard their role in Sommerton Junction as important.  He catches Jerry Bailey and Mike Figuerola hanging out with Lewis Dinkum, the local wild man who has somehow gotten a permit to collect all manner of weapons.  As Owen arrives, young Bailey demonstrates that he can’t handle one of Dinkum’s larger pistols.  When Owens asks him to run the license plates on a semi-truck passing through town, Figuerola must again show Bailey how to work the computer.  Yet when Bailey approaches Owens later that night, he asks the Sheriff to help him get transferred to the big city, where he believes he can do something worthwhile with his life.

When Gabriel Cortez, a Mexican drug lord escapes FBI custody, he races toward Sommerton Junction in a modified Corvette stolen from an auto show.  Thanks to skills honed on a race track built by his father, and the help of armed associates, he evades everyone sent his way.  His plan: to cross over the Mexican border near Sommerton. 

I wasn’t expecting much from Schwarzenegger’s first starring vehicle in ten years.  "The Last Stand" reminded me of “Raw Deal,” and some of the other small movies he starred in after his success in “Conan The Barbarian.”  Nor did Johnny Knoxville’s name, featured so prominently on billboards, inspire confidence.  But I found the story well thought out and constructed.  As the rest of the cast played their roles seriously, Knoxville’s brief moments onscreen provided welcome comic relief, and prevented the little action movie from taking itself too seriously.  Above all else, I really enjoyed Schwarzenegger’s performance as Sheriff Owens, who has seen enough of violence and death, and knows the terrible price that drugs cost individuals and society.  The FBI and his deputies may want him to stand down, to look the other way, but Owens knows he cannot simply let Cortez pass through his town without trying to arrest him.

The movie portrays so many great truths about our lives, but if I had to pick just one, it would be this.  It’s easy to do the job or task you feel called to when others applaud your efforts.  It’s immensely harder when no one believes that what you are doing is important.  Often, people shout that they are “Taking a stand,” or doing great things, but most of them abandon their efforts if they receive no discernible recognition or benefits after awhile.  It is only those who truly believe in what they do, whose self worth derives not from others but from within, who carry on when no one notices.  That is the ultimate test of character: to continue doing what you believe is important, even when everyone else has written you off.

Oh, and one other thing.  Whatever you do, don’t park your car in a Fire Zone.  Especially not when Sheriff Ray Owens is around.

Dragon Dave

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