Pinochet's Last Stand – DVD Review

pinochet
Available at Amazon.com

“My friends call me, ‘My General.'”

This is what the former Chilean President and Senator for Life, Augusto Pinochet, told his lawyer from his hospital bed in a private clinic in London. Pinochet had traveled to Great Britain in 1998 for a routine surgery on his back. When he awoke he found himself under arrest by the British government and facing extradition to Spain for crimes against humanity he perpetrated in his seventeen-year rule. Pinochet was held for over five hundred days as appeals were filed, and legal arguments ran through the House of Lords. Eventually, he was released back to Chile when doctors declared him to be unfit to stand trial for health reasons.

Pinochet’s Last Stand chronicles the historic events that took place over this sixteen-month period. It intersperses facts with speculation, going beyond what was reported on the nightly news and in the newspapers worldwide and delving into the lives of the various people involved from Pinochet to expatriated Chilean protesters who demanded his being brought to justice. And it does this extremely well, especially in its portrayal of the former dictator.

It would be easy to simply characterize Pinochet as a ruthless, bloodthirsty monster, but, like Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, Derek Jacobi turns in a richly nuanced performance that shows the man inside the myth: a family man, a patriot, and an inattentive husband who also happened to order the deaths of over three thousand of his fellow Chileans. There’s a certain rough charm to the man, and it’s difficult not to like him on some small level. At times he seems more like somebody’s weathered old grandfather than a merciless dictator.

The problem with this movie, though, doesn’t lie in its actors, or its director. What sets this film back is the lack of prior information about Pinochet. People unfamiliar with the general would hardly be interested, and those few who were would find very little in the way of historical information. This movie is a capture of those five hundred days, and it does that so well that extra information, such as how the man came to power and how he had the support of both the British and United States governments during his reign, is only hinted at. The script assumes that the audience will approach this with a significant level of background information, and because of that assumption it takes a few things for granted.

However, that aside, this is a very well put together movie with solid acting, directing, and writing. HBO Films has a deserved reputation for producing quality films, and this one certainly holds up to that standard. It won’t appeal to everybody, but those interested will not be disappointed.

The movie was presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio with Dolby 5.1 for the sound. The video and sound transferred fine, but audiences unfamiliar with the unique look of BBC productions may find the video subpar compared to the crisper quality of American television.

There were no special features with this film.

Pinochet’s Last Stand has a lot of strong qualities, but none of them really make this movie stand out as a must-buy, or even must-rent. Unless you’re very interested in British law or General Pinochet, you should probably pass this one by.

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HBO Films presents Pinochet’s Last Stand. Directed by Richard Curson Smith. Starring Derek Jacobi, Peter Capaldi, Phyllidia Law, Yolanda Vazquez, and Anna Massey. Written by Richard Curson Smith. Running time: 77 minutes. Rated TV-14. Released on DVD: February 26, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.