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The Last Castle
Theatrical release: October 12, 2001

Starring: Robert Redford
Actors: James Gandolfini Mark Ruffalo Delroy Lindo
Director: Rod Lurie 
Screenwriters: Graham Yost and David Scarpa
Producer: Robert Lawrence
Rating: R
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 opinion.

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).

 

 

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The Last Castle
Robert Redford / DVD 
2001
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