Robert Redford stars in this action drama as General Irwin, a respected three-star tactician whose career ends in disgrace when he's court-martialed and sent to The Castle, a maximum security military prison. Irwin quickly butts heads with the facility's autocratic warden, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), who runs his command with an iron fist, even killing prisoners when he deems it necessary. Irwin rallies his fellow convicts into a rag-tag army and leads them in a revolt against Winter, an action that the warden is ready to repel by violent means.
The main score of the movie, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, was named "September 11th 2001", because it was recorded on that day. Also, the movie's posters were changed after 9/11, because they showed an American flag flying upside-down (which is a signal for distress). A new poster was put up featuring faces of the cast. See more »
When General Irwin and Winter are talking about the battle of Shiloh, Irwin says that Grant lost 13.000 men. That number however includes men killed, wounded, captured or missing in battle. The real number of men that Grant lost (as in dead men) is 1,754. See more »
In an era when most new filmmakers seem less concerned with story than with figuring out new and creative ways to possibly damage their camera equipment, it's encouraging to see someone like Rod Lurie come along. A former film critic, Lurie has emerged in the last few years as a maker of old-fashioned "good movies well made". He impressed me last year with the political drama "The Contender", and this year he brings us "The Last Castle", a prison picture that overcomes some dramatic potholes to provide a solid two hours' worth of entertainment.
The castle in question here is a maximum security military prison, home to the armed forces' toughest offenders. The whole place is ruled by Col. Winter (James Gandolfini), a tinpot tyrant who delights in turning his prisoners against one another. Make them forget they are soldiers, make them forget they are MEN, and you will win...that's Winter's philosophy. Then, a monkey wrench is thrown into the works, in the form of Gen. Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford), a much-decorated three-star general court-martialed for a battlefield infraction. Irwin immediately sees Winter for what he is, and as his weeks in the prison wear on, he begins to realize that he is surrounded by SOLDIERS, tough, competent, and ready to fight. All they need is a general to get behind...and a villain to rally against.
"The Last Castle" is a character-driven piece, and is carried by the strengths of its performances. Robert Redford takes a character who is admittedly rather sketchily written and, through sheer force of his charisma and personality, turns him into someone quirky and specific. Irwin is more like the Sundance Kid than any character Redford has played in some time: a rebel battling against a system that has arrayed insurmountable odds against him. This time, however, Irwin is a product of the system, and he knows its rules. Redford conveys that wisdom with a bemused grin or a mere flex of his craggy but still handsome face. This, folks, is star power.
The actors surrounding him put in equally fine work. James Gandolfini is miles away from "The Sopranos" as the despotic Col. Winter, and makes him a fine villain, loathsome yet pathetic and curiously affecting at the same time. Mark Ruffalo comfortably wears the role of the prison bookie, a cynic whose father was a Vietnam P.O.W. with Irwin, and Clifton Collins, so creepy and evil as the assassin Frankie Flowers in "Traffic", turns in a drastically different turn here as a stuttering corporal who first recognizes Irwin's greatness.
Lurie helms this material with assured confidence. He gives the film a gritty, authentic look and feel, he knows how to recognize a dramatic moment and pay it off, and he handles the film's quieter scenes and its boisterous action payoffs with equal elan. Any way you slice it, it's just good filmmaking.
Though David Scarpa and Graham Yost spike their screenplay with memorable moments and fine dialogue, they shoot themselves in the foot with third-act implausibilities (you'll find yourselves asking more than once, "Now how did they manage to throw THAT together?") and an abrupt finale that leaves too many unanswered questions.
Still, even with these problems, "The Last Castle" is a solid, rousing piece of mainstream entertainment. It's well-made, it tells a good story without insulting your intelligence or your good taste, and it showcases some fine acting by veterans and newcomers alike. And I bet Lurie didn't even break any of his cameras. I'm sure Dreamworks appreciates that, if nothing else.
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