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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.77%
Worth A Look: 24.56%
Average: 24.56%
Pretty Bad36.84%
Total Crap: 5.26%

5 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Last Castle, The
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Doing time"
2 stars

The Last Castle is part prison movie, part patriotic military drama. “The castle” is a maximum-security installation where convicted American soldiers are dispatched after their court-martial. The latest arrival is the highly decorated Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford), a former general.

A petty tyrant, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), rules the castle. In his establishing scene, Winter listens to a recording of Salieri and polishes an antique sword on display in his office. We know from the way he handles the sword that this is a man who’s in love with his job, and will stop at nothing to protect it. His liking for Salieri gives away his whole character, and the trajectory of the movie. Winter wants to be remembered as a great military commander, but he’s insecure and paranoid that he’s not. Irwin turns out to be the Mozart to his Salieri - a born leader. Winter is compulsively jealous but his efforts at besting him are doomed to failure because Irwin is the man who’ll live on through his exploits and the love of his men.

Gandolfini, so memorable as a gay hit man in The Mexican, makes only a minor impression here. Irwin deduces from Winter’s collection of weaponry and books on military strategy that Winter is not a man who’s seen much action on a battlefield, and Gandolfini confirms this by his performance. He shuffles around, hunched over, compared to the erect, straight-backed convicts. Winter spends his time alternately glowering and cowering, making snuffling noises and hiding behind the large glasses he’s evidently blind without. His measures for maintaining authority range from the brutal (authorising beatings) to the pathetic (keeping people waiting five minutes outside his office before seeing them).

When he arrives, Irwin tells Winter that he only wishes to lay low, do his time and go home. Redford seems to have the same attitude towards the film. Although his wrinkled and weather-beaten face betrays his 64 years, he’s still in fine physical condition. But he was never a very expansive actor, and he invests little personality in this role. When he makes an off-colour remark to a visiting general (“I guess a hand-job’s out of the question, then?”), it comes out of nowhere. The screenplay of David Scarpa and Graham Yost has a couple of bizarre moments like that. It’s not subtle, however it keeps the action moving, and the dialogue generally isn’t terrible.

Irwin is a chess player - he treats war as a game with the men serving under him as pawns. He was court-martialled for continuing a mission against orders; his disobedience resulted in the execution of eight of his men by the enemy (as he hasn’t learnt his lesson yet, it’s not hard to see that this attitude will lead to his downfall). The chief fun of The Last Castle comes from the audacity of Irwin’s plan to discredit Winter - he’ll take over the prison to prove to the military authorities that Winter is incapable of command (hitting him where it hurts most). The prison uprising dominates the final act and it’s gratifying to watch a meticulously executed plan unfold (however farfetched), with towers and a helicopter exploding and Winter forced to watch his empire toppling.

Shelly Johnson’s robust photography gives a clear view of the action but director Rod Lurie keeps drawing the cameras back. It makes the battle remote, like we’re only watching toy soldiers. Lurie seems in two minds about the prisoners. They begin a stirring rendition of the marines marching song, but peter out after one verse because no one knows any other words. On the one hand, he presents these men as brave marines; on the other, they’re continually labelled “violent criminals” and fight amongst each other like dumb animals. Maybe Lurie really believes that some men (like Irwin) are born to lead, and are all that’s needed to bring out the best in everyone else. Lurie doesn’t elevate this story into anything tragic or real so - like his last film, The Contender - he resorts to patriotic speeches, flag-waving and a rousing score (courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith) to cover the gaps.

Of the other actors, Mark Ruffalo looks embarrassed to be saddled with the cynical turncoat role, though Steve Burton does OK as Winter’s offsider, Captain Peretz. At least you wonder what he gets out of working for Winter; he also respects Irwin, which makes him slightly less black and white than the other characters.

The Last Castle is diverting for most of its length but it offers nothing in the way of interesting characters. Nor does it encourage you to think or feel - beyond wanting to see the bad guy’s ass whipped. It reduces you to the level of the marines in the movie.

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originally posted: 11/23/01 08:16:47
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User Comments

10/18/11 KingNeutron Great film - very underrated, good performances by Redford and Gandolfini 5 stars
6/25/07 --- Ok exactly why are we supposed to be rooting for the prisoners? 2 stars
6/18/06 jal hey, the movie is a meaphor for an american police state, seriously, get educated 5 stars
8/17/05 ES Brilliant, start to finish a great movie, with a geat cast 5 stars
10/09/04 Odysseus I was pretty bored most of the time 3 stars
9/22/03 kill quacky this movie is 75 of 100 4 stars
7/15/03 JoeSco Very watchable apart from last quarter - Gandolfini underlines his class 4 stars
6/10/03 Francis good until the last 20 minutes which were silly 3 stars
12/03/02 Gazza E Interesting comments about leaders and followers...but in the end a prison movie 3 stars
7/12/02 KMG This movie rocked...and Redford showed up Tony Soprano 4 stars
5/30/02 davey mac assembly line generic crap....just like every other movie 2 stars
5/23/02 Crys Just to See Ruffalo 4 stars
5/23/02 Kyle Cliched shit. 1 stars
3/12/02 Crazy Bull Exciting, Intense, Feel-Good, Unrealistic 3 stars
2/26/02 Hans the Otter American Flag crap. Brian Goodman has an awsome hairy chest thought... 2 stars
2/20/02 Xaver The story kept me interested. 4 stars
1/07/02 Zebra Pretty Good 5 stars
1/03/02 Turtle A very entertaining and enthralling view of the Amercian people's rights. Great action! 4 stars
12/12/01 TG Who the hell is Brian Goodman,,,sexy and vulnerable...woof 5 stars
11/28/01 KMG This movie was pretty fucking entertaining....yes Soprano was miscast 4 stars
11/27/01 Ian Barr Errr... Love that rocket launcher substitute! 3 stars
11/22/01 steve goldenbaum Redford has skin like Melba Toast and one fucking shitty movie defined Tony soprano's caree 1 stars
11/10/01 Obi Wan Sorry, but I can't see James Galdofini out of his type casted rolls, he was outta place!! 3 stars
11/05/01 Bill Wyman Brian Goodman was the only real charector! 4 stars
10/31/01 Kristen Mark Ruffalo brings out the best in this mediocre movie 3 stars
10/27/01 Cheese Monkey God bless America (repeat for 2 hours, then puke) 1 stars
10/23/01 spaceworm How soon did YOU realize he was going to fly the flag right-side up? 3 stars
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  19-Oct-2001 (R)



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