Pinochet's Last Stand (2006), a TV-movie that originally aired in Britain under the more apt title Pinochet in Suburbia, is a curiously unfocused and only fitfully effective docudrama about the infamous Chilean dictator's 1998 London arrest and the political firestorm during the sixteen-and-a-half months that followed.
Augusto Pinochet (played in the movie by Derek Jacobi) was commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army when on September 11, 1973 he led a coup d'etat, overthrowing democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende. Soon thereafter, people began to disappear. Reports vary, but upwards of 30,000 were arrested without charge, access to attorneys or trials; many were raped and tortured. Of those approximately 10% were murdered though in most cases their relatives were never even informed that their loved ones had been arrested in the first place. It was as if they had never existed.
The U.S. and British governments loved Pinochet, human rights be damned. Whether they provided military/financial support for the actual coup is debatable, but the anticommunist Nixon Administration clearly was pleased as punch that Pinochet had overthrown the Chilean socialists, and subsequent administrations quietly supported Pinochet's reign of terror. British Conservatives felt likewise, especially after Pinochet's support for Britain during the Falklands War.
Indeed, the relationship between Pinochet and the U.S. and Britain was so cozy that after he stepped down as Commander-in-Chief (becoming a senator-for-life, also with diplomatic immunity) early in 1998 he felt comfortable traveling to London with his wife, Lucia (Phyllida Law), as an ordinary tourist seeking medical treatment. Aghast at Pinochet's brazenness, Amnesty International activist Andy McEntee (possibly a fictional character**, played by Peter Capaldi) helps coordinate Pinochet's arrest under a Spanish international warrant. The dictator is placed under house arrest in comparatively lavish surroundings, a high-priced estate in Surrey, albeit under 24-hour video surveillance by Metropolitan Police officers.
In trying to be all things to all people, Pinochet's Last Stand instead has no compelling characters, Pinochet's crimes don't have the personal impact that's intended, and the international legal and human rights ramifications of the case get hopelessly muddled.
The schizophrenic show scurries between McEntee, Pinochet and his wife, his British attorney (Pip Torrens), Nicole (Yolanda Vazquez), the sister of one of Pinochet's victims, and Home Secretary Jack Straw (Michael Maloney) and his teenage son (Gethin Anthony). At just 77 minutes, there arguably isn't time to dig deep into so many characters, but Richard Curson Smith's teleplay (he also directed) presents most of them as two-dimensional types anyway. Attempts to flesh them out don't work, such as Straw's relationship with his son, which seems to hinge on the outcome of the case, and a strange subplot involving new evidence about Nicole's sister that leads absolutely nowhere.
The fascinating story would have been better served had it stuck to the claustrophobic and limited perspective of Pinochet's high-priced "cell," or focused solely on the basic legal arguments. The legal aspects of Pinochet's arrest and trial - particularly the principal of universal jurisdiction - are particularly short shifted and one-sidedly presented, a shame. Somewhat better is the way the film directly addresses British complicity in Pinochet's long reign. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Anna Massey) meets with Pinochet in one scene offering her support (former President George H.W. Bush also called for his release, sadly not shown), but the distinctive actress looks nothing like Thatcher and her performance sounds like it was dubbed (or re-dubbed by Massey herself). Credibility is strained in an earlier scene where Lady Thatcher anonymously sends the Pinochets a big basket of gourmet treats, which the police quickly pass along with minimal inspection.
The closest Pinochet's Last Stand comes to working is the relationship between the highly unpleasant Pinochet ("friends, call me 'My General,'" he says none-too-modestly) and WPC Broughton (Jessica Hynes, billed here as Jessica Stevenson). She initially is quite annoyed with his unfailingly contemptuous attitude, but, believably, over 500 days, even a notorious South American dictator and simple London cop can get used to one another, and she eventually becomes sympathetic to his (feigned) declining health, angry that the protestors outside the estate "haven't...got anything better to do." It's a fascinating relationship, something the film could have used more of, though even it pales compared to an almost identical character relationship dramatized in the television miniseries Nuremberg (2000).
Video & Audio
Pinochet's Last Stand is listed as having an aspect ratio of 16:9 which technically is correct, but the disc is not enhanced for widescreen TVs, despite reviews on other sites claiming such. This pointless 4:3 matted presentation only adds to the DVD's disappointment; there's no reason that this shouldn't have been enhanced. The 5.1 English (and 2.0 Spanish) audio are okay but unremarkable. Optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish are included. There are no Extra Features.
Pinochet's Last Stand has a few good performances and isn't a bad introduction to the case that in the end only furthers the argument that the bad do indeed sleep well, but the script is very disappointing and the DVD presentation singularly blah. Rent It.
** Or not. "No, I'm not a fictional character," writes Andy McEntee, "I'm an international human rights lawyer, I was Chairman of Amnesty in the UK at the time of Pinochet's arrest, and from 1991 had led the push for his arrest in the UK (finally occurred in 1998). Fair review, I thought." My apologies.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest books, Japanese Cinema and The Toho Studios Story, are now available for pre-order.