General Imprisonment
The Last Castle
Review by Ross Anthony

The name "Robert Redford" is synonymous with strong acting. For some, the mere utterance of those syllables invoke the very concept of quality moviemaking. Perhaps that's why the producers cast Redford for the part of US war hero, icon, author, military strategist and ultimately, court-martialed General Eugene Irwin.

The film opens with the General's first day of his 10-year prison sentence. He's welcomed by James Gandolfini (colonel/warden). Gandolfini nearly bubbles over with anticipation of this meeting, he's polished to perfection the collection of historical swords and weaponry, but as he steps out to find his copy of the General's book on war, Redford quips to the first in command, "A man with a collection like this has obviously never been in battle."

The Last Castle Though abrupt, and somewhat out of character; it's this stinging comment overheard by Gandolfini that sets the stage for the prison chess game to follow. Eventually, the warden's mistreatment of his inmates forces the General into action. As many of the convicts are ex-military, they fall under his command quite naturally; what follows is a Hollywood-style battle over the castle (penitentiary).

Though at the outset, Redford might have seemed like a fine choice for the roll, he's only intermittently convincing. In between his strong moments, schmaltz oozes as slick as a bar of soap on the shower room floor. And, (I hate to say it because I'm a big Redford fan), some less than stellar acting. It's Gandolfini, a good story idea, and some strong hits near the end that really save this film from losing control of itself.

Though their ultimate goal is different, "Last Castle" still plays like your standard prison-break picture. It didn't have to be that way. Unfortunately, there are many potentially interesting elements left un-emphasized. Most notably, the sweet internal conflicts: Redford's earlier choice to take to action or remain tolerant, and Gandolfini's meaty mix of pride, admiration, challenge, insecurity. If Gandolfini impresses you here, go rent "The Mexican" - he's at top form. (Btw, I'm a big fan of his as well.)

But perhaps the most missed element: a touch of insanity. All the pieces are here to allow Redford's character to be less than psychologically sound. Such a twist would leave audiences guessing. But instead, the choice is made to keep Redford nearly perfect. Even when we finally learn the reasons behind the court-martial/imprisonment, we still assume he had good intentions. (Btw, I see no reason to tell audiences what he did - the mystery plays much better than the tale.)

The Last Castle Instead of opting for the much more interesting possibly-insane angle; the filmmakers make up our minds for us. Redford is the good guy and we are clearly supposed to cheer for his band of killers and rapists. The tastier muddy gray issues become bland black and white after only the first act. Director Rod Lurie (a West Point graduate himself) showed greater prowess painting in gray with his two earlier films "Deterrence" and "Contender." ("Contender" makes a fine rental.)

Earlier weak moments are answered later in the film with some powerful filmmaking. One example of the former, Redford, punished for insubordination, moves 25 lb. rocks all day as the prisoners rally around him. Hokie (in script, filming, acting) beyond words, I felt embarrassed for Redford. Then near the end, Redford's charm and talent once again take command, but only enough to average the playing field.

A good idea executed unevenly backed by a somewhat manipulative over-simplified script is fortunately topped off with a strong (albeit predictable) climax.

Click here for interview with director Rod Lurie.

  • The Last Castle. Copyright © 2001. Rated R.
  • Starring Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo, Paul Calderon, Samuel Ball.
  • Directed by Rod Lurie.
  • Written by David Scarpa and Graham Yost, story by Scarpa.
  • Produced by Robert Lawrence at Dreamworks.


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:04:41 PDT