Set in the last days of the old west, The Last Manhunt is based, however loosely, on the true story of the hunt of Willie Boy, one of the longest manhunts in United States history. The story was filmed at least once before, as Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here with a cast that included Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, and Robert Blake.
This time out Martin Sensmeier (9 Bullets, Lillin’s Brood) plays Willie Boy a young man of the Chemehuevi tribe. He’s in love with Carlota (Mainei Kinimaka, See, Ka Po ) but her father William (Zahn McClarnon, Dr, Sleep, Hell on the Border), the tribal leader and shaman, objects because the two are somewhat distant cousins. Distant but still close enough for it to be against tribal law. The film opens with him tracking the pair down and forcing Carlota to return home. A subsequent confrontation between Willian and Willie leaves the old man dead, whether by accident or murder isn’t clear. The lovers flee into the desert with the law on their trail.
Director Christian Camargo (Days and Nights) is better known as an actor, having appeared in everything from K-19: The Widowmaker and The Hurt Locker to Dexter and Witch Hunt. He’s working from a script written by Thomas Pa’a Sibbett (Braven) based on a story he co-wrote with Jason Momoa (Aquaman, Dune) who has a small role as Big Jim.
The story behind The Last Manhunt has plenty of material that they could have turned into a riveting thriller but they weren’t interested in that. The Last Manhunt is what you could call an elevated western. It’s more interested in the tensions between Sherriff Wilson (Christian Camargo) and the Native American lawman Hyde (Raoul Max Trujilo, Cold Pursuit, Frankenfish) than the reason they’ve been thrown together. It’s also more interested in journalist Randolph (Mojean Aria, Call of the Void, The Enforcer) and his sensationalized reporting of the pursuit than the pursuit itself.
All of this could have still made an interesting drama but once again the filmmakers undercut themselves by refusing to focus on any one aspect of the story as a central theme and flits around between them seemingly at random. This leaves the plot threads and the characters undeveloped and uncompelling as they wander around the desert on their way to an ending that’s as underwhelming as everything that came before it.
The Last Manhunt also moves at an incredibly slow pace, often pausing for scenes with minor characters that add nothing to the film beyond length, which at an hour and forty-three minutes it has more than enough of. There are also way too many times where the plot is stopped dead for shots of the desert landscapes. It is beautiful and impressive, but the constant interruptions of what is already a way too leisurely-paced film just make it that much harder to stay interested.
The cast certainly tries to make their characters interesting, the leads are all solid and Brandon Oakes (Blood Quantum, Togo) is notable in a thankless role. But without a decent script, there’s only so much they can do. The Last Manhunt’s cast is full of Native American performers who could use a showcase and it fails them as much as it fails the audience.
Anyone watching The Last Manhunt looking for a typical western will be disappointed. Anyone hoping for an absorbing drama will be disappointed. And anyone watching to see Jason Momoa will be disappointed. In short, just about anyone watching The Last Manhunt will be disappointed.