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Legendary military man and three star General Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) is court martialled and sent to maximum security military prison otherwise known as The Castle, after disobeying an order in battle, leading to loss of lives. His arrival at The Castle is a major event, especially for the iron fisted warden, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini) whose admiration for Irwin is matched by a collection of military artefacts. But the men are destined to clash from the start and they deploy the psychology of war in an effort to achieve victory: Irwin to oust the flawed warden, Winter to impose his authority.

This is a tank of a film, a vast, rumbling drama that follows in the traditions of great prison movies that use all the visceral buttons of power, justice, brutality and humanity in a confined space to exert emotional currency for an audience manipulated to cheer for the least baddies. There are several subtle mistakes in the premise and subsequent writing that undermine an otherwise effective piece of entertainment. One: this military giant Irwin would never be sent to a max security prison, even if he did a very bad thing like disobey a direct order that resulted in deaths. Even though the film powers its way past this reservation, once you leave the cinema, this thought will come to you. Two: the warden disintegrates in predictable fashion and one has to question the veracity of the character. These gnawing, background questions undermine the film’s unquestioned dramatic power in other spheres, but point to the ongoing problems with Hollywood’s studio works: there is nobody to pull up the producer and make him/her go back to the script and work on the characters, because the studio bosses haven’t a clue about movie making. The difficulty with writing fictional characters is that everyone involved (writer, director, producer, actor) tries to create a consistent character. Humans are not consistent, as good writing recognises. Warder Winter can not be what he turns out to be. And since he is the trigger for the dramatic action, it makes a dent in our willingness to be drawn fully into the texture of the film. All the same, it’s a workable and gripping film, with Robert Redford delivering the elder statesman hero with great panache, and a wonderful supporting cast. The structure is dynamic, with extended tension and a well balanced mix of brain and brawn, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is suitably – if a little predictably – grand. The ending also lets the film down with mawkish sentimentality and corn, yet it could have been saved with just a simple cut. See it just for Redford.
Andrew L. Urban

A battle of wits is central to Rod Lurie's The Last Castle, a gripping prison drama about honour and redemption. This is truly Robert Redford's film – Redford has the presence, the control and the essence of the statesman-like soldier he portrays. There are no soft lenses, and at 64, he looks great - even with his shirt off. Although we are told surprisingly little about his character, Redford, in one of his best performances for years, successfully creates a man of stature and mystery, whose courage shines through like a beacon. His General Irwin, looks for the best in men: he is the total antithesis of Colonel Winter, whose manipulative game of chess secure behind his office walls, is the means for his own sadistic rewards. James Gandolfini's performance as the cowardly, cruel prison chief works well, but I must admit, I would have liked to have seen Gene Hackman in the role, bringing a harder and more credible edge to the character. But there are some nice touches, such as the Colonel's music preferences include that of Salieri (a composer frustrated by his jealousy for his rival Mozart). Lurie's intelligent direction keeps the story on track, Jerry Goldsmith's score soars, and the performances are engrossing, from Mark Ruffalo's wild card Yates to a cameo performance by Delroy Lindo as General Wheeler. I loved the scene when General Wheeler meets with Irwin, and their friendship and familiarity cuts through the formality of the circumstance. Ruffalo, memorable from his role in You Can Count on Me, is a great talent, as is Robin Wright Penn, who looks different in every role. Here, as Irwin's estranged daughter, she manages to gives us more information about the central character than anywhere else. There are breathtaking stunts and the action is played out in thrilling fashion with imaginative defense. Moving and truly memorable, The Last Castle tackles strong moral issues: its themes of nobility and courage make it an uplifting cinematic experience.
Louise Keller

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CAST: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Delroy Lindo, Steve Burton


PRODUCER: Robert Lawrence

SCRIPT: David Scarpa, Graham Yost


EDITOR: Michael Jarlow ACE


MUSIC: Jerry Goldsmith

RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 22, 2001

VIDEO RELEASE: May 22, 2002

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

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