Last Castle, The

Rated: R
Stars:   Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo
Director:   Rod Lurie
Writers:   Graham Yost and David Scarpa

Although it’s all apparent black and white, good versus evil in concept,  The Last Castle plays well as macho action-drama inside a military prison. What’s lacking is the kind of shrewd characterization that might make you respect the two leads for their differing viewpoints. As it is, one is obviously a saint and the other, clearly a bully.

The film begins with the arrival of the disgraced but highly decorated and legendary three-star General Eugene Irwin (Redford) whose disobedience of an executive order led to the execution of eight of his men by an African warlord. Accepting his responsibility in the matter, Irwin plead guilty and has been given ten years incarceration. His hope now is to do his time and then go home to meet the grandson he’s never seen.

The inmates are enthralled by his presence among them. Prison commander Colonel Winter (Gandolfini) is both excited and apprehensive to be given such an important prisoner. He envisions the two of them somehow being equals of a sort until Irwin inadvertently insults the colonel for his lack of battlefield experience. That’s all it takes for Winter to set his sites on taking Irwin down a notch or two. But it’s not just about clashing egos.

Winter is the type who sees the worst in men; Irwin prefers to consider the good they may have done before they got there. And although Winter makes a good point as to why he’s so harsh, he loses the argument when it’s seen (at every opportunity) that Winter enjoys disciplining his charges to the point of cruelty and, in its extreme case, even death.

Commanding the respect of the inmates through his heroism and demeanor, Irwin goes head to head with Winter for control of the prison. It’s a slow buildup to all-out warfare as Irwin marshals his forces through wisdom and experience and Winter stews and tries to outguess the master.

Also features: Steve Burton as Captain Peretz, Delroy Lindo as General Wheeler and Clifton Collins Jr. as Aguilar.

Lotta says: It’s great to see Robert Redford again, looking weathered but still very fit. He portrays a particularly low-key general who spouts wisdom as he presents himself as just one of the guys. As a result, I wondered if Redford made for a convincing general. Gandolfini, meanwhile, comes across as the same thug he portrays on TV in  The Sopranos. Fairly good drama up to the last third when things really get cooking with the inmate uprising. Redford at this point proves some good military wits about him but forget about plot plausibility. How long would a real prison commander have waited before ordering live ammo on these guys? And would all the inmates really have hopped on this gung-ho bandwagon? Nevertheless, this is one flag-waving drama that makes you believe there is still good in even the tarnished.

Reviewed 10/19/01