The Last Castle


Directed by: Rod Lurie
Written by:David Scarpa, Graham Yost
Starring: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo
Released: November 22, 2001
Grade: B-

The ability to lead is a prized trait of any human being.  It’s not something you can develop - you either have it or you don’t.  Home to many prisoners, Colonel Winter (Gandolfini) is head of a high-security military prison.  Winter is stunned to hear the news that General Eugene Irwin (Redford), one of America’s most decorated leaders, is about to arrive.

Charged with a breach of military protocol that resulted in heavy loss of life, Irwin pleaded guilty and received a ten year sentence.  Winter feels awkward accepting Irwin as a prisoner and initially treats him with respect.  He even asks him for an autograph.  Irwin is solemn and when asked what he expects from his time in prison he gives the model answer - “Nothing.  I just want to pay my time and go home.”

Soon enough though, Irwin finds that Colonel Winter’s warm introduction wasn’t typical of his persona.  Irwin’s natural leadership qualities earn him respect from the other prisoners and they tell of Winter’s reign of extreme discipline.  There have been several deaths under his rule and the standard of life is inadequate.  Instinct tells Irwin to act and so the prisoners rally to take control of the facility to remove Winter from command.

What should have been a very powerful motion picture fizzes out with what is becoming commonplace - a ludicrous ending.  There were several moments during the final battle where logistics were questioned.  Why weren’t more prisoners injured in the attack?  Why did the prison guards retreat?  And where the hell did they get the slingshot from?

The screenplay and editing are significant flaws.  Aside from the above discrepancies, the issue as to why Winter is so hated isn’t explored.  How are we supposed to hate this guy if we don’t know why he’s so bad?  Also, the prisoners are portrayed like innocent pawns.  The story of why many came to be in the jail isn’t told.  I guess they felt if we knew they were all murders, we wouldn’t like them as much.

Robert Redford offers little more than a smile and an occasional inspiring remark in a disappointing appearance.  James Gandolfini is the standout with an excellent performance but The Last Castle’s silly ending greatly reduces his character’s credibility - it’s just too over the top.

The high benchmark set by The Shawshank Redemption will probably never be eclipsed but it hasn’t stopped filmmakers trying to show what it’s like on the inside.  All I ask for is a little realism.