Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade shows off Steven Spielberg’s comedic skills. Not just in his direction of the scenes between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, but also in the film’s overall tone. At the beginning, as River Phoenix is running from the bad guys on the train, Spielberg homages Buster Keaton (and rather well). The lighter, playful tone–I mean, they make a big Hitler joke–leads to Last Crusade being Spielberg’s finest Panavision work since his first three films. Given he barely uses Panavision, that statement might not be too bold… but I certainly wasn’t expecting Last Crusade to be so much better directed than Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The comedic tone also does well due to John Williams score. Though his “Grail Theme” is poor, most of the score is energetic and fun (Williams borrows a lot from his Jaws 2 score here).
Jeffrey Boam’s script might be the film’s biggest boon, given how fast the story moves. The film runs over two hours, but when it near the last twenty minutes, I couldn’t believe it was almost over. Boam knows how to pace things–the flashback, the opening action scene, the brief but content-full scenes in the United States, then Venice, then Austria–by the time Connery shows up, it’s probably at least thirty-five minutes in the film, but it doesn’t feel like it at all.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sean Connery so willing to let himself be laughed at like he does in this film and it’s one of his best performances. It doesn’t hurt he and Ford work beautifully together, but–almost against the odds for a big blockbuster with five or ten action set pieces–the film actually gives him a story arc, gives one to Ford too (another first for an Indiana Jones movie). While they’re not momentous story arcs, they have definite volume.
The supporting cast–Denholm Elliott has some great scenes here, even if he is a walking punch line–is generally strong. John Rhys-Davies, while amusing, seems to be in the film to differentiate it from the second in the series. Julian Glover’s a good villain and Phoenix is fantastic as the young Indiana Jones. Alison Doody seems like she could have had some good scenes, but instead they got cut.
The film’s very polished–the Indiana Jones series sort of serves as examples of the change in 1980s action movies–and Spielberg’s very comfortable with his action scenes here. I love how he gets Hitchcock into a chase with the Nazis.
I knew this one had to be better than the second, but it’s an excellent diversion.