Judge Adam Arseneau would skip ahead to the end on this DVD.
This is what happens when you let Canadians watch HBO.
Featuring both seasons of the Gemini award-winning CBC miniseries, The Last Chapter, this 12-episode DVD box set presents an HBO-inspired miniseries of organized crime in Canada, making a few alterations to the formula made so successful by shows like The Sopranos out of…well, geographical necessity. Since Sicilian mobsters are in relatively short supply in the Great White North, The Last Chapter substitutes the most readily-available local equivalent in Canada: biker gangs.
Facts of the Case
Bob Durelle (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers, Total Recall), leader of a biker gang in Toronto, tries to convince his troops to get in bed with The Triple Sixers, Canada's largest motorcycle gang, who are looking to expand their vast army of thugs and illegal operations into Ontario. Ever the ambitious opportunist, Durelle manages to take control of all ten Triple Sixers chapters in Ontario as well as securing a distribution deal with a Brazilian drug lord to expand the gang's territory. His ruthlessness impresses the right people in the vast criminal organization, and he is hailed as a rising star in the Triple Sixers family.
However, his old Devil Riders gang members, including Ross Desbiens (Roy Dupuis, The Barbarian Invasions), are less than enthusiastic about wearing Sixers colors and giving up their autonomy. Splintering off and formulating their own alliances, the tensions mount between Durelle's new power base and his old soldiers, and the confrontations soon grow violent. Under increasing pressure from the Sixers in Montreal, attempts on his life by his former gang mates, increased police activity, and the corruption that comes with his rising power, Bob Durelle can barely keep his family life together, let alone his criminal empire…
The Last Chapter is an uncomfortable example of why Canadian content rarely succeeds on an international platform. For Canadian television, The Last Chapter is not half-bad, but that statement carries frighteningly little weight on an international level, especially when the packaging goes ahead and compares itself to juggernauts of drama like The Sopranos. Bad move.
Though the two shows are not even remotely on the same level, the Sopranos' influence on The Last Chapter is almost painful to behold, a ripoff so blatant as to be laughable. Like The Sopranos, the show is more about the interpersonal relationships between people in power, ever-shifting allegiances, and manipulations between friends, family, and business associates (sometimes all three) rather than petty crime. The cops chase Durelle, who manages to stay one step ahead of both the law and his family, but soon loses touch with his family, and, oh, fights ensue. Durelle's loyal soldiers soon become envious and resentful of his power, aiming to take him down. His wife threatens to leave him, his daughter resents him, and his son idolizes him and soon mimics his aggressive behavior. I mean, the gang even hangs out in a strip club. Come on. And so on, and so forth. The clichés runneth so far over that it almost seems laughable, and the made-for-TV production values, corny Canadian locale, and stilted dialogue only make matters worse.
Being a made-for-TV miniseries for Canadian television, production values are about as poor as you might expect. The acting is amateurish, made more strained by the many French Canadian actors forced to recite their stilted lines in English. The production was shot twice, once primarily in English and once in French, to be aired in the respective markets…got to love Canada. Ironside may not cut the most convincing figure of a biker gang leader, but he has the perfect contemptuous sneer for the part. He looks a lot better in the three-piece suit than the bright red leather jacket. To be honest, the only character that saves the show in the acting department (besides Ironside, who is hit-or-miss) is Guénette (Michel Forget), a wizened and laid-back police officer who knows everything about Durelle's biker organization and doggedly follows the Sixers at every turn. The chemistry between Durelle and Guénette, linked together by their mutual respect and admiration for one another, despite being on opposite sides of the board, is the saving grace of acting in The Last Chapter.
Though fictionalized, The Last Chapter is more realistic than most Canadians want to admit. Motorcycle gangs in Canada represent the country's largest organized crime problem, with one infamous gang in particular (use your imagination) responsible for a great deal of violence, murder, and drug dealing coast-to-coast…especially in Quebec, where the problem has reached epidemic levels. Many of the situations depicted are heavily influenced from events straight out of national headlines. The weird strained political tensions between Anglo and Francophone Canadians is kept intact, and it is interesting to see how the legitimate Mafia helps fund the biker gangs in order to draw attention away from their own stranglehold on the Canadian underworld. Organized crime in Canada is something of a superfluous issue, with the majority of Canadians having serous doubts that any problem even exists at all, so seeing a dramatized made-for-TV film poke holes into the seedy underbelly of Canada is…well, almost unintentionally hilarious. Surreal, even.
Despite being a show about drug-dealing biker gangs, ironically, there is very little dealing or motorcycle riding of any kind in The Last Chapter. The story takes a few episodes to get going, but manages to carry the show along quite well. Keeping track of the endless names and faces is difficult at first, but fortunately, the easy-to-forget ones usually end up getting killed before too long. One of the better subplots involves a retired biker who takes himself entirely out of the game in order to focus on his painting career and romancing his new girlfriend, an art dealer. Unfortunately, escaping the biker world is nearly impossible, and soon the police put pressure on his new girlfriend to tap her retired biker boyfriend for information.
The first few hours are rather dull and slow-moving, and the show never really gets itself motivated past this point. This is not to say the show lacks a certain, how you say, je ne sais quoi (to get into the French-Canadian spirit, n'est pas?) I admit, more out of stubbornness than enjoyment, I found myself eagerly switching discs to rush through The Last Chapter. The ending disambiguates itself a bit and gets a bit preachy, but overall, not a terrible ending; a mix of bittersweet comeuppances and irritating clichés. I did not hate this show, but I can't say I exactly enjoyed it either. Thankfully, there were enough compelling characters, situations, and tension to stop the show from spontaneously combusting into a fireball of Francophone accents and axle grease.
This is a poorly designed DVD. I know this because the menus themselves have errors on them, displaying incorrect text, which is kind of a dead giveaway. Luckily, the technical presentation holds up moderately well, if a bit haphazard at times. The image suffers from a lousy digital conversion, and many jagged edges are noticeable, as well as the occasional bit of grain here and there. But overall, the image is well within reason for a low-budget Canadian television miniseries, with good color contrast, black levels, and sharpness.
The audio, a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, is decent for what it is. The soundtrack, an overdramatic convoluted mix of string orchestra, rock guitar solos, and pounding drums is aggravatingly catchy, but gets a bit repetitive. Bass response is reasonable, audio spaces nicely between the channels, and dialogue is always clear and concise. The feature has no optional subtitle track; burned-on subtitles appear during French dialogue sequences.
Not a bad offering of extras, all things considering; we get cast and crew profiles, behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, an alternative ending, some deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and a small ten-minute "making of" documentary. It's a made-for-TV miniseries…I'm surprised we get any extras at all.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It may be lame, but never underestimate the charm of a hometown-produced dramatic crime series shot in your backyard. I mean, to see dozens of bikers, convoy-style, plowing down Highway 401 in Ontario? That's just nifty.
What really irked me about The Last Chapter is, despite being nothing more than a poor man's Canadian rip-off of an HBO drama, I could not actually stop myself from watching the stupid show. By all rhyme and reason, The Last Chapter is bad television…bad acting, bad dialogue, and bad production values. And yet, there is an undeniable fascination in seeing the events unfold in The Last Chapter, seeing the tangled web unravel itself with a sense of deliberate finality.
With its wooden acting, corny production values, and a convoluted plot, The Last Chapter is not a good show by North American standards, but it does keep you coming back for more, if only out of some twisted sense of morbid curiosity. For a Canadian TV miniseries—sadly—this is as good as it gets. Take that any way you will.
It may be goofy, but I've spent my time in worse ways. Not guilty.
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