The Last Castle

The Last Castle


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

At a time when America is rediscovering the spirit of John Wayne, two things stand out - pride in the armed forces and the power of the icon. Both carry with them a burden of sentimentality.

Robert Redford has emerged from lean times, following The Horse Whisperer, with his reputation enhanced. His arrival at The Last Castle carries symbolic meaning, firstly as General Irwin, hero of post-Vietnam theatres of war, and secondly as himself.

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On the surface, the story follows traditional lines and does not add to the sum total of a torture testimony. What loosens it from the fictional straightjacket are strong performances from James Gandolfini, as the prison warden, Mark Ruffalo, as the cell block bookie, and Redford, who quietly takes charge.

The castle refers to an army prison, where sadism and discipline are intertwined. Colonel Winter is ruthless in his pursuit of efficiency and will not tolerate insubordination amongst staff or prisoners. Although set in a conventional mould, Gandolfini refuses the easy route and discovers a degree of sympathy for a man determined to fulfill his duty.

Irwin has been court-martialled for disobeying orders. He accepts the blame and makes no excuses. It was the wrong decision in the wrong place. Now he has to serve his time. Winter treats him with respect at first, while determined to break him if he steps out of line.

On the simplest level, the film is about leadership and justice. Winter's technique is to destroy the prisoners' self-esteem by forcing them to do pointless jobs, such as building a wall and then knocking it down. Irwin sees what is happening and slowly becomes instrumental in their war of attrition.

"They cannot take away who we are," he tells them. "That we are soldiers." Such patriotic propaganda falls foul of the saccharin police, when all that is required is a bloody revolution in the style of The Rock, although not that crazy.

For all its flaws and soppy side issues, director Rod Lurie (The Contender) is trying for something different. He doesn't completely succeed, but with Redford and Gandolfini on top form, the film certainly has its moments.

Reviewed on: 02 Jan 2002
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Robert Redford plays a US general, who ends up in a brutal army prison, run by James Gandolfini.
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Director: Rod Lurie

Writer: David Scarpa, Graham Yost

Starring: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Delroy Lindo, Clifton Collins Jr, Steve Burton, Paul Calderon, Samuel Ball, Jeremy Childs

Year: 2001

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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