Tuesday, October 23, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 44


Redford stars in stripes in new film 'The Last Castle' 

The Last Castle
Starring: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini 
MPAA Rating: R
Rating 3 stars

Coming at a time when the nation is at war and patriotic sensibilities are at an all-time high, it seems coincidental that a movie like The Last Castle -- starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini -- opens nationwide to dole out some flag-waving and military virtue.

Courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures

Robert Redford stars as a disgraced general in the new film The Last Castle. Redford's character leads an army of imprisoned men against an unscrupulous warden.

Directed by Rod Lurie, who last helmed the critically acclaimed The Contender, this military prison drama purports that a castle can only have one king. 

The Castle in this case is a maximum-security prison, an unlikely stop for decorated three-star General Irwin (Robert Redford).

Court-martialed, stripped of his rank and sentenced to prison, Irwin's reputation and defiance evoke respect and then resentment and hostility from Warden Colonel
Winter (Gandolfini), who runs the prison with an iron fist.

Slightly miscast in this role, Redford gives the impression that prison is a resort of some kind he's having to endure for a few years.

Gandolfini is totally adrift as Winter, who has no clue on how to handle Irwin effectively.

In Gandolfini's defense, he brings a chilling element to the character with his kill-'em-with-kindness smirk.

The tension begins when Winter personally visits with Irwin on arrival to "the castle" and asks for an autograph. While out of the room, Winter overhears Irwin
bad-mouthing his precious military memorabilia; Irwin condescendingly points out that any man with such a collection has never set foot on a battlefield, a comment that
brings Winter to a boil and quickly ends the charming hospitality session.

Winter takes his frustration out on the prison population by issuing only one basketball on the prison yard, resulting in fisticuffs that ends with one pugilist taking a rubber
bullet to the head.

After witnessing this, Irwin, who previously declared that he simply wanted to do his time and go home, decides to challenge the system by helping the other prisoners
erect a wall in the courtyard.

The feud between the big two is then fueled by the death of a likeable slacker Irwin took under his wing. Irwin then makes a dramatic speech to take over the prison to
oust Winter, who is a disgrace to the uniform. The irony here is obvious, but the reason for Irwin's imprisonment is not. Equally unclear is how the prisoners are able to
acquire the materials to overthrow authority.

The underlying premise here is that the ex-soldiers that call the castle home have been told they are no longer soldiers, but given the opportunity under Irwin's
command, they can still fight a war.

Barring the overt use of clichés, Castle's saving grace comes in the form of Delroy Lindo's portrayal of General Wheeler and Mark Ruffalo's fallen pilot who act as the
realists who contrast Irwin's haughty view of the world. Equally entertaining are the nameless prisoners who defy reason with their feats of bravery and toughness. Their
collective effort alone will have audiences cheering them on.

Overall, this is an above-average flick that will garner comparisons to the cinematic marvel The Shawshank Redemption. And although Castle isn't as moving or
well-written as Redemption, it's enjoyable and won't be the waste of greens many movies this year have been.

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