Directed by Terry Loane, The Last Rifleman stars the enigmatic Pierce Brosnan, who decides to make a great escape from his nursing home and go to Normandy to join the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, meet his fellow veterans, and pay his respects to all the soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for their nation. As fictitious as it might sound, the astonishing fact is that The Last Rifleman is based on the real-life story of a World War II veteran named Bernard Jordan. Writer Kevin Fitzpatrick and director Terry Loane have taken creative liberties to dramatize the narrative and to make things a bit more intriguing, but they have kept the essence of the real-life story alive.
The Allied forces needed a victory on the western front, and to liberate France, Operation Neptune, aka D-Day, was launched on June 6, 1944, and it is believed to be the biggest seaborne attack in the history of mankind. Bernard Jordan was a part of the operation, and he served as a Royal Navy officer. Years later, when he realized that the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings was near, he decided to leave for Normandy on this mission without informing a soul about it. He wanted to honor the memories of his friends, colleagues, and fellow countrymen who had sacrificed their lives, as he knew that he might not get the chance in the future. It is true that Bernard escaped from The Pines Care home, situated in East Sussex, and the administration did not have a clue where he had gone, so they ended up filing a missing person’s report. Bernard had some problems reaching Normandy, but he was determined, and he made sure that no matter what the circumstances, he achieved what he had set out for.
We didn’t understand why two films (The Great Escaper and The Last Rifleman) based on the same topic were released almost together, though we won’t complain here as it was a joy to watch our favorite 007 once again create magic on screen. Brosnan’s character is named Artie Crawford, and he belonged to the Second Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles, as he states it very proudly every time he gets a chance to introduce himself. Apart from some subtle differences, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Terry Loane have introduced certain subplots that didn’t happen in real life. In The Last Rifleman, it is shown that Artie’s wife, Maggie, dies after being married to him for 68 years, after which he decides to go to Normandy. In reality, Irene Jordan was pretty much alive when Bernard took on the mission and crossed borders to relive his memories. In the film, Artie has a friend named Charlie, who lost his life on the battlefield, and he is the prime reason why Artie decided to visit the D-Day celebrations and honor his sacrifice.
Maggie loved Charlie, but when he didn’t come back from the battle, she decided to get married to Artie. Artie held himself responsible for the death of his friend, and he believed that Maggie was always meant to be with Charlie, and she made a compromise by making the decision to be with him. Artie never had a problem with being the second most important person in his wife’s life, but the fact that ate him from within was that somewhere, it was his fault that Charlie was not able to survive the war. Artie believed that if he hadn’t been so scared on that fateful day, his friend wouldn’t have stopped for him on the battlefield, and he would not have lost his life. This film touches on some very interesting points that might not have happened in real life, but it made us ponder how we take things for granted and how, at times, our preconceived notions get the better of us and coerce us to not consider any other viewpoints that do not align with ours. Artie meets an SS officer on a bus, which he is forced to take as there are no other vehicles available that could take him to his destination. He doesn’t want to get on that bus, as he still considers them the tyrants who took the lives of innocent people. Friedrich Mueller, the SS officer, saw the hatred in Artie’s eyes and articulated very beautifully that it was hard to be on the losing side, but what was harder was to realize that you had been on the wrong side. Those words did something to Artie, and for a moment, all that hatred dissipated from his core.
The Last Rifleman is as much about the journey undertaken by Artie Crawford as it is about understanding life. When you are young, you feel like you can conquer the world, but as time passes, you realize that nothing in life is in your control. Yes, you can try to act a certain way in a given moment, but you never know what fate has in store for you. Often, we witness around us how fate intervenes and all our planning goes in vain, and it’s then that we realize why people always stress the importance of seizing the moment. Life is unpredictable, and you never know what might happen the very next moment, so it is always better to never take your time here for granted. Just like Bernard Jordan, our Last Rifleman also reached Normandy, though the news that he was the last surviving member of his unit came as a shock to him. He almost lost his consciousness, and Tony McCann, the journalist, had to admit him to the hospital. After reading the letters Artie used to write for Charlie, Tony felt that it was his responsibility to take him to the cemetery where Charlie was buried.
The real Bernard Jordan died on December 30, 2014, and his wife, Irene Jordan, also passed away seven days later. The veteran had a fulfilling life, and more than anything, he was grateful for the fact that he was able to go against the odds, escape his nursing care, be a part of the commemoration, and complete a full circle of life.