Sight and Sound - 06/01/1974
"...[A] therapeutic and nicely wrought blow at the authorities..."
Total Film - 01/01/2001
"...It's the crew-cutted Nicholson who really stands out, giving one of the least mannered performances of his career....This is defining '70s cinema..."
In THE LAST DETAIL, the winning combination of director Hal Ashby, screenwriter Robert Towne, and actor Jack Nicholson turned an unheralded novel by Darryl Ponicsan into a classic example of Hollywood's brash era of the 1970s. Navy lifers Billy "Bad Ass" Budduskey (Nicholson) and Mule Mulhall (Otis Young) are given a week to escort a teenage petty thief, Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid), from Virginia to the naval penitentiary in Maine. Their plan to bring him there quickly, then party the rest of the time away, changes when they come to sympathize with the naive Meadows. He's clearly an uncontrollable kleptomaniac who was given an unjust sentence, so they decide to include him in their plans. But as they escort him through the entire '60s scene, from bars, brawls, and drug-addled parties, to a visit to a prostitute (Carol Kane), they begin to worry that showing him the world he'll be soon be missing might not be the act of kindness they had initially intended.
Based on an unflinchingly bawdy script from Towne, THE LAST DETAIL was the first Hollywood film to present sailors in all their F-word-spouting glory. Nicholson is once again phenomenal as Budduskey. Ashby boldly tones down the killer smile, quick anger, and antiestablishment attitude that would launch Nicholson into mega-stardom with 1974's CHINATOWN. When balanced with Quaid's and Young's standout performances, the film reaches a new level and results in an ultimately moving character-based dramatic comedy.
After being convicted of petty thievery, a young sailor finds himself in the care of two escorts assigned to take him to military prison. But the journey turns out to be more leisurely than expected, with several side trips and extracurricular activities thrown in for good measure. As they travel, the three exchange confidences and become friends. By the time they have reached their destination, everyone has been changed permanently by the experience.