Theatrical release: October 12, 2001
Screenwriters: Graham Yost and
Producer: Robert Lawrence
Running Time: 133 minutes
Reviewed By: John Barker
- Take a pot shot but be warned.
The Last Castle should probably be the
last film made about a military prison. Although its two heavyweight
leads give the film an attractive quality they don’t stop this
movie being given life in the dungeon of film history. The film
begins with an involving premise of the moral and ethical clash
between imprisoned General Eugene Irwin, (Robert Redford), and
non-combatant prison warden Colonel Winter, (James Gandolfini). But
the film dilutes its good intentions in the final quarter and
descends into a pitiful mess of action and prison movie clichés.
In setting the film in a military prison and
having the inmates try to take control instead of breaking out
director Rob Lurie and screenwriters Graham Yost and David Scarpa
have tried to cut away the normal prison based clutter but in doing
so structurally they have in fact concreted some new conventions and
in the process made them seem rather dull.
In the narrative the warden opposes Irwin
because of his natural leadership qualities and his level of combat
experience. The original animosity is caused rather by a juvenile
comment from Irwin who remarks that the warden has never seen combat
and is a fool for the way he acts. This leads to a standoff between
the two but Irwin wins the respect of his inmates by regimenting the
men into building a wall.
One of the films low points is the scene where
Irwin’s daughter tells him that she will no longer see him and
that he is a failure as a father. The scene is both badly written
and acted; Robert Redford reacts with little emotion and makes the
scene feel false and forced.
Furthermore the finale is an overwrought
action exercise. Helicopters and buildings explode in a series of
unlikely events and the prisoners even build a large catapult
without any one noticing. It is also coated in American jingoism
obviously inspired by a post 9/11 upsurge in national pride and for
this the films final image of the American is rather laughable.
Also of considerable value is the
cinematographer’s lighting design for the film by Shelly Johnson.
She has created an oppressive, gritty, urbanscape look to the prison
and the wonderful use of overexposed backgrounds.
The performance from Gandolfini is excellent
taking him past his type cast role of the TV series The Soprano’s
into new acting territory. On the other hand Robert Redford seems to
go purely through the motions and is even a little uninvolved in my
This prison genre piece is not the best nor
the worst and works in places even if it is a cross breed of The
Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957, GB) and The
Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994, US).