The Last Castle (2001)
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A military prison. Warden: Tony Soprano. (Anyone who writes to me, explaining the distinction between an actor's character name and his real name will get a reply explaining the distinction between hebetude and tongue-in-cheek.) New inmate: profusely-decorated 3-star general Robert Redford. Theme: Battle-theorist (Tony, battle memorabilia collector) versus battle veteran (Redford, whose field credits include the Gulf and other inane political coups). Premise: Inmate Redford takes a dislike to the way Warden Tony disses his marine and army peeps behind bars, so launches a prison revolt, inmates rallying behind him due to his iron-fisted reputation and rakish good looks.
Let the farce begin.
Requisite character stereotypes abound: Aguilar, the dim bulb; Yates, the amoral prison bookie; the fallen-from-grace doctor, the big black guy, the big white guy, the big guy of uncertain ethnic descent and the token Latino guy. Redford coaxes The Patriot from this ragtag band of uncertain heroes, twisting Tony's panties into cat's cradles in the process.
For we who came to see Tony Soprano bust a move other than his renowned Gansta Rap, we were not prepared for the impotent swab his warden character turned out to be - even as a 'character actor playing against type', Tony was reined in by director Joe Lurie to such an extent that even when the situation warranted explosive retaliation during the siege, Tony simply sulked around his crumbling office in a prissy rage.
Saluting is not allowed amongst prisoners in a military prison - something to do with loss of rank and lack of hairspray. Redford's clichéd one-liners evokes inmate-saluting soon enough, causing big trouble in Little Italy. Which leads to Redford's punishment: to bare his virile, octogenarian man-torso (we're talking' carpet-chest that makes Paul Stanley's look like a bowling green) and to move a pile of rocks from here to there. With his blond ambition and undeniable desirability to prison men of all persuasions, Redford turns this punishment into yet another spectacle with which to win over the hearts of his fellow crims.
All the philosophy, chess-playing and tough love comes from the convicted criminal in this film - Redford - so the viewer is cajoled into rooting for the WRONG side. The attempts at tear-jerking and patriotism and brotherhood are completely misplaced by the fact that this bake sale is held - in a JAIL. And the good guys.are the bad guys. When was the last time you supported a prison revolt, replete with murder and destruction of taxpayer property, cheering on the cons in their noble cause to usurp authority?
Redford uses Tony's own armaments against him; the water-cannon, the trebuchet (the wha-?). This last weapon turned up out of nowhere, like Monty Python's Trojan Rabbit, when the plot had degenerated to guys running around and burning things, and the director thought no one would notice the appearance of a construct that literally cannot be hidden anywhere on prison grounds. (The Great Escape this ain't.) Checkmate is to capture the warden's American flag and fly it upside down, which denotes a distress signal, a concept which they make abundantly clear through the dialog of about twenty people. Okay - I heard you the SEVENTH time - so if the American flag winds up flying upside down, nobody's a terrorist or anti-American - sheesh!
To cap this farce with the seal of disbelief, these guys don't even want to escape - they just want another warden. I got news for you, guys: the warden may change, but the JOB-DESCRIPTION remains the same, i.e. it's his DUTY to retain your low self-esteem, disorientation and to KEEP YOU IN JAIL. Changing the management amounts to nothing more than amending the names on the doors and letterheads. Of all people, you military perps should understand that in contravening The System's laws, you yourselves have empowered The System to isolate you from it.
A prison is NOT a democracy - at least, not the last time I was in one. Since when do we grant prisoners the expertise to diagnose anti-social behavior in a warden? Or the inalienable right to OVERTHROW the prison if they "don't like the conditions"? Yeh, jail sucks - it's meant to!
In the final scene, Redford flashbacks to his Sundance Kid days, as an army trains their rifles on him in the rec yard, waiting for the word from Don Soprano to bake his ziti. Redford carries the folded flag stolen from Tony's office, and word on the street was that he was gonna raise that puppy upside down, thereby broadcasting Tony's incompetence to the Five Families. So Tony must stop him at all costs; he faces Redford, staunchly: 'Give me back my flag!'
Redford: 'It's not 'your' flag.' Ouch! - now that was so patriotic, it made my thighs supple. Sundance strides to the flagpole and resolutely starts raising the flag, as Tony is screaming at his men to shoot him down - but of course, each rifleman's dreams were now rife with frolicking in that snowy-white chest-jungle with the blue-eyed avenger-general who defied a mob boss. They lower their weapons - and it is up to The Jersey Godfather to whack Boy Redford. Of course, he is arrested immediately by his lieutenant; something to do with The Law - The Law which they suddenly want to adhere to, after not giving it a moment's thought during the last hour's siege.
Camera pans up the flagpole and - the flag is flying, proud and true - RIGHT SIDE UP. And the convicts salute it. And the guards salute it. And the music swells, as Redford dies with a smile, flag fluttering in battle-smoke breeze, cheese glutting all Exit doors.
Probably the best advice one could offer to someone contemplating viewing this movie - Fuggedaboudit!
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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.
It did that very well, and is worth seeing for at least one reason. Although Robert Redford puts in a solid performance, James Gandolfini steals this movie with his simpering, bully-boy performance. Despite knowing from the opening scene that he will undoubted lose against Redford's disgraced general, Gandolfini's depiction of a man in authority but with little power is very subtle and worth watching.
The rest of the film has some clever moments, but you see everything coming - Redford inspiring the other prisoners, the inevitable conflicts and the finale. The Last Castle is worth seeing once.
Despite what others may believe, I feel that this movie strongly apes Shawshank Redemption and other heretofore well-tramped ground. We have a power-hungry, egocentric warden, a quiet, reserved new prisoner who was quite successful on the outside and whose previous life is known of by his inmates. And a struggle of wits, warden vs. prisoner plays out like a game of chess. Interesting to note, both Shawshank and Last Castle incorporate chess as the greatest battle of wits...I doubt the similarity is coincidental.
The acting is good...I won't take that away from the film. The characters are relatively believable and the actors handle their roles well. The problem with this film is that it relies too much on illogical or contradictory ideas to move itself along. Ok, first the title "the last castle" is contradicted again and again as Redford keeps saying that anywhere you raise the flag and say you can't take this away from me is a castle. It's almost the theme of the film and it directly contradicts the title...seems like a case of a line too good to throw out, even though it really does not fit.
Also, Redford demonstrates a great deal of respect to the warden but speaks very harshly of him when the warden is simply removed to the other room to grab a book to have signed. Redford criticizes the warden in a most uncivil way right in front of the warden and it just doesn't make sense...it's completely unlike the character to do so. But there has to be some animosity between the two and that was the easiest way to do it...illogical yes, but whatever gets the action moving, right? The guards are also painfully one-dimensional. We get a glimpse early on that the captain is a good guy forced to do bad things but all that we know of the snipers, etc. is that they enjoy shooting prisoners and that the warden enjoys manipulating everyone within the walls. A scene that showed them to be human, to have any feeling other than hate for prisoners, would make them far more believable and make the story that much better...again, this is an action movie and moving the story along fast is key: not a logical progression of events, not keeping the promise to show both sides of the story made in the opening scenes.
In short, this movie is woefully inconsistent. Is it filled with good action sequences, especially for a prison movie. Is it entertaining...sure, it's not bad. But as a film, a piece of art, it just does not pass muster...in their attempts to push this movie onto the screen the film makers simply left too much out and obviously did not spend enough time developing the script. It has so much potential and so little payoff. A 6 in my book.
I`ve no idea how the United States treats servicemen who`ve fallen foul of the law , but I do know how Britain treats hers . In Britain servicemen commiting minor infractions are usually sent to the " Glasshouse " ( Every military base has its own ) while for more serious disciplinary matters like testing positive for drugs or going AWOL British servicemen are sent to the military prison at Colchester for a period ranging from a few days to several months after which they`re returned to their regiment or discharched from the military . For more serious crimes like murder , rape etc servicemen are sentanced by a civilian court of law and this is what confused me about THE LAST CASTLE - Why are the inmates sentanced to many years in a military prison ? Wouldn`t they be sent to a state prison ? Not only that but if it`s a military prison wouldn`t it be a disciplined environment ? The one seen here is no different than any other one you see in cinema with all the inmates hanging around the yard , all aged in their mid 20s to late 40s and all hanging with their own ethnic groups . I often found myself forgetting this was a military prison for large chunks of time and was only reminded it was run by the military when the action cut to Col Winter`s office
!!!!! SPOILERS !!!!!
The actual plot of THE LAST CASTLE is about the battle of wills between the prison commander Col Winter and new arrival General Irwin . Irwin was a hero from Vietnam ( I wonder if he`s based on John McCain ? ) who upsets Winter by stating that because he collects all sorts of military memorabillia Winter couldn`t have served on a battlefield which understandably upsets Winter because it`s a bizarre comment to make . Let`s see now absolutely no one in history who collects military artifacts has never been in the field ! I won`t bother to point out how inaccurate this sweeping generalization is except to say it`s used to set up the battle of wills in a very weak example of scripting . And the more the story goes on the more aware you become that the production team have little knowledge of military or political matters . It turns out Irwin was in charge of a mission to Burundi in central Africa which cost the lives of eight American soldiers and it`s this that led to him being sent down for ten years . Are you trying to tell me that if an American commander is in charge of a military mission that goes wrong he`ll find himself sent to prison for many years ? Well in that case General McArthur should have been sentanced to hundreds of years in prison for the Chinese intervention in Korea and General Westmoreland should have been shot for the Tet offensive . Did General Garrison do time in prison for the events in BLACK HAWK DOWN ? Oh and it should be pointed out that America never intervened in Burundi , just thought I`d point that out . But it goes from bad to worse as General Irwin leads his men on a prison revolt ( Bet you couldn`t see that coming chaps ? ) where the inmates reveal right out of the blue a siege engine . " What`s that ? " Col Winter shrieks . A siege engine , a catapult to be more accurate , a catapult that must stand thirty foot high that none of the guards seem to have noticed , isn`t there a minimum eye sight requirement in the American military ? Just curious since no one seems to have noticed a thirty foot catapult standing around . Perhaps Hollywood should bring in a basic intelligence test for its screenwriters ?
I won`t bother telling you how the story ends except to say if you can reach the end credits without turning off you deserve some sort of medal for watching a movie above and beyond the call of duty
The performances are splendid all around. Most especially, James Gandolfini (who had the inside track with the most richly drawn character) excels as the ambiguous villain who is actually right more than half the time.
The message which deals with the value of pride and the importance of identity and self-worth is certainly admirable. The fact that this occurs among men who have marred their own self-worth through violent crime makes the concept that much more interesting. It almost (but never quite) raises the idea of reclaiming integrity, once lost. If it had gone this extra mile, it may well have been a better film.
The weaknesses lie in the hundreds of stupid little inaccuracies which culminate into one stupid BIG inaccuracy: This place doesn't feel like a prison!
It is difficult to make a prison movie within ten years of 1994 without inviting comparisons to "The Shawshank Redemption." Rather than belaboring the obvious, I want to note one detail that is exemplary of the earlier film's superiority. Even the jolliest, funniest, most easy going prisoners in Shawshank had an underlying sense of danger about them. You didn't want to get on their bad side. You never doubt that they belong in prison (except, of course, for Andy Dufresne). But this is not so in "The Last Castle." No matter how often someone reads from a prisoner's file and discusses the horrible things he has done, none of the words, actions, or other moods conveyed by the men in this film make them seem in any way dangerous. Maybe it's a case of mass miscasting but I doubt it.
Compounding this problem is the lack of scholarship to be found in the little details. Robert Redford shaves with a safety razor in spite of the fact that no prisoner would be allowed such a tool. Razor blades, like belts and shoelaces, are potential suicide tools and, thus, prohibited in prisons. Also, people keep referring to an officer's side arm as his "gun" instead of his "weapon." These mistakes were easy to avoid and yet they remained in the film.
All of this makes a potentially fascinating film, filled with talent, seem a touch removed from reality. Like in "The Contender," director Rod Lurie has shown that his view of reality is based on his opinions rather than the other way around.
With all it had going for it, it's a shame really.
Now, it's hard to get to the top of the heap in the military by not knowing how to play the game and by choosing one's battles very carefully (at least political ones). But then if the producers had been that realistic, the movie would never have been made. So the great general goes to prison, drawing from his 6 years in the Hanoi Hilton. What does he do? He starts leading the troops, er, excuse me, "prisoners", because there are no soldiers among the inmates, and no rank, etc. etc.
A military prison would not be that much different from a civilian one. The major difference is that the inmates of the former were convicted of committing crimes while serving in the military. That means you'd have your share of thieves, murderers, sexual predators and other assorted sociopaths. It seems, however, that the producers of "The Last Castle" thought otherwise. Why these are men who are just in need of a charismatic leader to whip them into shape.
Well, I think I've made my point. The great general manages to inspire these thieves, murderers, etc., to achieve real greatness. Oh yes, there's the warden, played by Tony Soprano, er, James Gandolfini. I have to confess that I couldn't keep from thinking about "The Sopranos" every time I saw him. I also couldn't help wishing I were watching that instead of "The Last Castle".
The final sequence is so far-fetched that it borders on the ludicrous.
Potential Spoiler Alert!
It really crossed the line when a guy climbs up a chain and manages to enter into a helicopter and SINGLEHANDEDLY overpowers the door-gunner and pilot. He then slams the tail into a tower and survives the subsequent crash landing. This would have worked in a "Die Hard" movie with good ol' Bruce Willis, but not in a movie that takes itself far too seriously. Well, at least he was a helicopter pilot in the Army.
Add to that an embarrassing assortment of clichés, rousing music, a gratuitous scene with the alienated daughter, and you have it, a solid 2 star movie. I only give it that because at least it was competently produced. I have satellite, so these movies are repeated quite frequently. However, this is one I will NOT be tuning into even if there's virtually nothing else to watch. I'd rather take a nap, read a book, go shopping, do just about anything than sit through this one again....
Despite being a total box office flop, I was still sufficiently attracted by Lurie and the cast he had put together to give this film a chance (albeit on DVD rather than in the cinema). The film is a mix of two types of film and it manages to do neither of them that well, but well enough to produce an enjoyable if forgettable film. The first half of the film is a sort of drama, with Irwin teaching the men the respect and humanity that (supposedly) they once had as soldiers. This half is OK mainly because the fatherly Redford makes his character work pretty well at this stuff it isn't brilliant but it is OK to watch. The second half sees the film become increasingly illogical as the contest between Irwin and Winter intensifies up to the point where a slightly silly final action sequence. I won't say enough to spoil it for anybody, but the final sequence of events grows more and more unlikely by each passing event. Happily it is also quite exciting for what it is and the temptation to scoff at it is delayed (slightly) by the distraction value of it. It is not a great story by any means but it is workable and the director and cast are just about good enough to make the weak into the watchable, the empty into the entertaining.
Ex-Empire critic Lurie will always interest me because he had the guts to do what few critics could stop analysing others and make something themselves. His direction is good and he handles the action sequences well (their weaknesses being in their writing, not in his delivery). The cast are talented and do their best with a script that is not as good as their talent deserved. Redford has an easy task playing an elder statesman, full of charisma and high principles. He does this well as one would expect from an actor if his caliber. Gandolfini plays back his accent in an attempt to keep his character away from his 'Sopranoisms' but the script doesn't help him. Gadolfini plays a 'little man', one whom we half feel sorry for and half we dislike; he does well to keep both these sides out, but at the end of the film the script is only really interesting in making him a controlling monster and his performance doesn't really matter one way or the other. The support cast has quite a few well-known faces, most of who are pretty good. Lindo is more of an add-on but the ever-reliable Ruffalo who shows here why he now has the reputation of a solid support man.
Collins has a simple, stuttering character but it is still nice to see him in something other than a gangbanger role. The rest of the support are good enough, even if they don't have a great deal to do.
Overall this is an average film that seems to aspire to a higher level at one point and then just settle for action and explosions at later stages. None of it really amounts to much but the first half is enjoyable as a fairly clichéd drama and the second half is quite enjoyable even if it is silly and overblown. I can understand why it didn't really do much at the box office but as a DVD it works well enough to pass a few hours even if it never really does much more than go through the motions.
-- Spoiler Alert ---
Others have mentioned the fact that an enormous catapult was somehow hidden in the corner without being noticed, but when bullets are bouncing off wafer thin metal trays, you know the script was probably taken over by some silly exec. Oh, and last time I checked, punching someone in the head WHO HAS A HELMET ON and is packing a loaded shotgun is usually not a good idea.
Please DON'T waste your life watching this film. If you like the lead actors, then rent out season 1 of the Soprano's, or watch Sneakers...
The highlight of the movie could have been the scene where General Wheeler, following his meeting with former Boss Lt. Gen. Irwin, met with Col. Winter and stated: "If you cannot handle Gen Irwin, say the word and I will remove him immediately". To this if Col. Winter had merely responded "Yes, remove him" the movie would mercifully ended at this point and we all would be better off for the early finish.
Gandolfini is a very talented actor and his talent shows through this weak script despite the frequent over enunciated monosyllable dialogue. On the other hand, Redford, at age 65, out of shape, and with all that highlighted retro blonde hair, is both miscast and is less than credible in the role of General Irwin.
Sheesh. And don't get me started on (1) the probability of a 3 star general incarcerated for ten years for an offense that at the worst might cause a forced retirement and ending up in a prison full of violent marine enlisted men; or (2) a former helicopter pilot who climbs up a chain, overpowers two pilots, destroys a guard tower and the helicopter while killing an innocent guard, crashing said helicopter after lopping off the tail section, and who ends up with only a forehead scratch and; (3) Metal food trays used a protective shields against high powered weapons; (4) Shotguns that fire rubber bullets with the accuracy of a hi powered rifle; (5) A US Army Captain, loyal to his CO throughout the entire movie, who turns on him at the end and not only refuses to obey a lawful order, but threatens the CO with a sidearm, (6) or the estranged daughter who travels God knows how far, to tell her father she won't be back to visit him anytime soon.
My wife said the only line missing in this movie was the one where (when Redford was rallying the troops in the cafeteria after the guards mysteriously left to chase two brawlers thereby leaving the entire prison population to enjoy a pep rally) Redford should have said: "They can take away our freedom, but they can never deny us the right to sing and dance (music comes up in the background, entire cast begins tap dancing to the tune of Flashdance)!! Fade to black.
By halfway through it seemed at that it could be a remake of the excellent Mackenzie Break. In much the same way in this film I was intrigued whether Redford was supposed to be a hero or a reckless egomaniac. For this ambiguity it deserves a few points even though I now realise that this ambiguity was probably unintentional.
The ambiguity is then destroyed in the final scenes. Redford is revealed as an all-American hero, and the film becomes just another gung-ho movie in the John Wayne mould. You could then laugh at the sudden appearance of a fully-trained and equipped army from among the prisoners. There were also some good stunts.
I suppose to American audiences it seems to be yet another patriotic movie. It is about a bunch of hardened criminals who are so full of guilt about letting down the US Marine Corps, that they will all re-unite into a crack unit with minimal persuasion by someone they know had needlessly sacrificed his men. They really loved the army, they just needed another chance. They will even shed a tear for the US flag when it is raised.
To non-US audiences the whole plot is more likely to seem both confusing and hilarious. It seems more likely that an officer as an inmate in a military prison would in reality have a hard time and would do well to gain any respect, let alone instant adoration. Yet Redford's character is able to lead the prisoners in a futile attempt to take over the jail causing many innocent casualties on both sides - some hero. Somehow the American flag is invoked to make it seem justifiable. I half expected Mel Brooks or Leslie Nielsen to make an appearance and the film to be eventually revealed as a parody. Amazingly the US can still make corny films like this with a straight face.
The acting is eminent. Robert Redford does a fine performance as the reluctant hero, but two other actors are stealing the scenes even more so. The first is of course the fabulous James Gandolfini in a very different role than what we are used to from The Sopranos. I am a big fan of the TV series and I would never have thought that he would be able to play such a prick that I would actually hate him. The second actor worth extra praise is the new talent Mark Ruffalo who played so heartbreakingly well in the amazing You Can Count On Me from last year. He portrays an ordinary character with such heart and genuineness that the character becomes so much more interesting than it would with most actors.
The film is saved by its actors and its entertainment value. What pulls it down is all the logical errors and holes in the script. And I am sure many Americans will appreciate the excessive patriotism shown in the film, but it really gets too much.
Absolutely worth watching, but I have a feeling that this could have been so much more.
Kwai meets Dirty Dozen meets Shawshank meets Great Escape and is far far below any of them.
I suppose this movie will do well because it features a flag and contains some vague notion of soldiers' honor. But it in fact debases both.
The primary problem is Redford. He knows his way around a set, and he has a familiar, reassuring face. Problem is he can't act, and certainly can't deliver what is needed here: a man who carries a whole world in the air around him, a man whose presence exudes authority. Lindo easy conveys this feel; nothing Redford tries, does. It is as comical as the girl always falling for Woody Allen.
Worse: the mind of the warfighter has some very specific mental mannerisms, some attractive, some not. No one involved in this film seems to have bothered to discover these.
I am at a particular disadvantage: I viewed this in an audience heavily populated by the real thing. Plus the last film I saw was `The Interview,' which also featured a battle of wits between a jailer and prisoner. It was leagues beyond this.
A chess note: I believe the original story must have made much of the chess metaphor: the wall, the faceoff between the two, the supposedly deep anticipative strategies, constraints of the military command structure. If so, it would have been blunt and rather obvious but at least some coherent center. Here it is so watered down that studio execs must have been afraid of even this small grain of sophistication.
I only wanted to say that i've read those comments and for the first time ever! I couldn't agree more on every point being made in there.
This movie is a yard sale of all the trite prison clichés ever being made so. and we get served a storyline that make porno's look intelligent.
Almost everything that happens in this movie is so unbelievable that if it weren't for the cast, one would think this was a educational promo on how to not write a script.
Shame on Redford for not walking off the set...