danheller.com

Thumb Rating System
Full List of Movies
You Are Here:  Movie Reviews  >  Last Castle

Dan Heller's Movie Review of "The Last Castle"


This page has 9 images
Click to recommend this page:
thumbs, down, movies, photograph
magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, last castle poster, photograph
"The Last Castle" is about an inmate revolt in a U.S. military prison... and that's about it. The plot, as it was intended, provides a reasonable backdrop for what could have evolved into a thoughtful portrayal of human character. Unfortunately, the movie is a hollow shell, where life isn't breathed into the characters, and the story suffers from apathy.

Directed by West Point grad Rod Lurie, who directed last year's "The Contender", "The Last Castle" certainly has the look and production quality that exudes "military life". Lurie certainly knows what it looks and feels like to be in the military, and that such a life can strengthen character and offer redemption. The problem is, he doesn't succeed at communicating that to the audience. Rather, we're expected to just "accept" certain conditions or emotions, rather than giving us a reason to believe through screenplay.

magnifier.gif
Robert Redford as General Irwin
last castle, movies, photograph
Robert Redford plays General Irwin, a highly decorated three-star general with a great deal of battle experience from Viet Nam to the Gulf War. He's been court-marshaled and convicted to ten years in prison, for what, we don't yet know. Erwin's adversary is Col. Winter, the Prison's corrupt and abusive warden, played by James Gandolfini (from HBO's "The Sopranos").

The conflict between the two happens in the first scene where Col. Winter, a long-time admirer of General Irwin, asks the general to sign his copy of Irwin's book on military strategy. While Winter goes off-camera to retrieve the book, Irwin engages in a conversation with an orderly over Colonel Winter's collection of old war artifacts. When Irwin states that anyone that collects such things has never seen real battle, Col. Winter overhears him, and turns his target sites towards the General. War hero be damned.

magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, photograph
The rest of the movie is the development of this conflict. When General Irwin sees the unjust management of the prison by Col. Winter, solidarity develops between him and his fellow prisoners. He quickly befriends most of them, bringing order and cohesiveness to the group. Unlike most new arrivals to prison, Irwin doesn't have to earn the respect of the others; he already had it through his war reputation. This seems to ignore the fact that he's been convicted of a pretty serious crime, the nature of which only becomes more mysterious. As the prisoners regain their dignity through Irwin's supposed charisma, the warden continually tries to defile and defame the general. Tensions build, and eventually, Irwin announces that Winter should resign, or he will overtake the prison.

There's the plot. Now, how that develops is what makes the movie so weak. No event or character has enough depth or credibility. In fact, the characters are so shallow, the two main characters, Irwin and Winter, don't even have first names. They aren't used in the script, and the credits and production notes list them only by their last names.

magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, photograph
The most important example of this is in General Irwin himself. All the prisoners "accept" the general as a famous war hero, yet, we don't see or experience anything to justify this acceptance. The best we are offered is a short scene where we see scars from Irwin's having been tortured in a Vietnamese prison camp, which suggests courage and sacrifice for his country and fellow prisoners. Fine, but the prisoners had already trusted him at this point, so the scene didn't convince us of anything. We understand the prisoners respect him, but we have to as well. This is best done through interaction, flashbacks, or dialog that tells more of a story about who Irwin is, what motivates him, and the big picture of what he's all about.

magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, photograph
Plus, there's that lingering question of what Irwin did that got him court-marshaled in the first place. The longer it takes to find out what his crime is, the more dramatic we expect it to be, and the more depth it should give his purpose in the movie. We expect one of three things: the crime is so heinous that the prisoners would reject him, causing the struggle to be about redemption for himself as well as to the prisoners. Or, he could have been unjustly convicted, in which case, his fight has a moral cause that's beyond just a corrupt warden. He'd have to fight against a bigger adversary, like the top military brass itself. Lastly, and most interestingly, there could have been a moral ambiguity where there was no discrete right and wrong in Irwin's "crime", similar to the conflict between Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in the 1995 film, "The Crimson Tide".

Any one of these scenarios would have established precedent for whatever came next, and Irwin's fight to gain the prisoners' trust would have added the human drama and purpose that's so sorely missing from the movie as it is.

It turns out that Irwin's "crime" is an unfulfilling abstraction: "disobeying direct orders," resulting in the execution of eight men. Sure, a bad thing, but what does it say about his character? How does this affect how people feel about him? Trust and honor are both critical in the military, yet these two aspects are too conspicuously overlooked.

magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, photograph
Redford's character also doesn't come to terms with another personal struggle: his daughter. She visits him at the beginning of the movie and they clearly have a lot of patching up to do, but this relationship never develops. She should have either been cut, or their relationship developed, perhaps tying it in to the deeper personal issue that may be somehow related to the motivation behind his crime, whatever that may be..

The same problems in character development apply to Col. Winter. Why is he sadistic? He was clearly bitter and resentful long before Irwin came, so what got him that way? His fallout with Irwin wasn't that dramatic to make their conflict interesting. Also, as much as I like James Gandolfini as an actor, he simply failed to have any sort of presence as a bad guy in this context. For a military-movie comparison, consider Jack Nicholson's performance in "A Few Good Men." Not only did he believe in what he was doing, he had such enormous presence on screen, that you felt the intimidation when anyone had to have any contact with him, let alone conflict.

magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, photograph
Without a meaningful and plausible feeling for each of these characters, the only thing we're left with is the battle between them. But, what kind of battle is that? The adversaries aren't equal, nor do we have a "David and Goliath" analogy, where, against all odds, the smaller and morally just soldier triumphs over the evil giant. In "The Last Castle", there's an experienced war veteran against an inexperienced prison warden; we know who's going to win before the conflict even begins.

Even the climactic battle has no surprises. There are no major struggles of any kind, and worse, it's fraught with implausible action sequences. In one scene, a helicopter crashes to the ground, burns in flames, rolls over several times, and the only thing left is a wire-frame skeleton of a structure. Yet, the pilot comes out with no other injuries than a bloody nose. The movie is full of such scenes, and worse, many are simply out of sequence, and the time-flow is so inconsistent, you find yourself thinking, "shouldn't that have happened a while ago?"

magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, photograph
Lastly, the metaphors in the movie fall so flat, it doesn't even make sense to think about them. The prisoners are given a task to build a wall, which was presumably the wall of the original prison that was once destroyed. Rebuilding that wall is supposed to be about rebuilding character and personal honor and respect, but its prominence in the movie is so understated that it doesn't succeed at doing anything but giving the "extras" something to do while on screen.

As for the script, given all the problems already mentioned, one doesn't expect much from it. It's simple, shallow, and somewhat predictable, with the prime goal of manipulating audience emotions.

magnifier.gif
last castle, movies, photograph
The best thing I can say about the movie is its high production value. The cinematography is good, with effective lighting and sets to effectively convey mood. But, in the end, it'd be better to see it when it gets to network television while you passively watch it while browsing the internet for other, more interesting things.

THE LAST CASTLE

Directed by Rod Lurie; written by David Scarpa and Graham Yost, based on a story by Mr. Scarpa; director of photography, Shelly Johnson; edited by Michael Jablow and Kevin Stitt; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Robert Lawrence; released by DreamWorks Pictures. Running time: 120 minutes. This film is rated R.

Starring: Robert Redford (General Irwin), James Gandolfini (Colonel Winter), Mark Ruffalo (Yates), Steve Burton (Captain Peretz), Delroy Lindo (General Wheeler) and Paul Calderon (Dellwo).

Official site: www.thelastcastle.com.

Click to recommend this page: