The Last Castle
Capture the flag. Doc (Military) makes sure Irwin (Redford) is ok...
dir Rod Lurie
scr David Scarpa, Graham Yost
with Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Clifton Collins Jr, Delroy Lindo, Brian Goodman, Paul Calderon, Frank Military, Michael Irby, Samuel Ball, Robin Wright Penn
release US 19.Oct.01; UK 4.Jan.02
01/US 2h11

3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
a castle can have only one king There's a terrific idea at the centre of this film--a profound examination of power and respect, wonderfully brought to life by a magnetic cast of characters, then nearly buried by overbearing production values. When General Eugene Irwin (Redford) is courtmartialled he's sent to "The Castle," a maximum-security prison that seems like a holdover from medieval times. It's presided over by Colonel Winter (Gandolfini), and within minutes of meeting there's a subtle power play at work between these two men--prisoner vs warden. Irwin is the kind of quietly confident leader who inspires and earns respect; Winter a playground bully who demands it. Soon their battle of wills for control of the prison escalates to all-out war, with prisoners and guards forced to choose sides.

The premise is fantastic--an involving, provocative character-based drama about leadership. Redford and Gandolfini (shaking off that Tony Soprano persona) embody their characters perfectly, generating palpable tension between them. And they get solid support from everyone around them, especially Ruffalo as the shifty guy who keeps everyone guessing, while Lindo effortlessly steals all his scenes. The script is also fiercely intelligent, with some smart twists along the way ... until it turns into a Big Hollywood Action Movie. We can feel this coming a long way off, mostly due to the (over) production values--the gothic design of the prison, some clunky symbolism (Winter listens to Salieri--aha!), constantly swooping camera work, Jerry Goldsmith's swelling score. By the time all-out war breaks out, the film is just another thrillingly entertaining yet deeply dumb popcorn muncher. Yes, it's exciting and ludicrously satisfying, but it makes you wish the film could have been made for about a 10th the budget--with the same cast.
themes, language, violence cert 15 27.Nov.01

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2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall