Retro Review: The Last Castle

Written: October 19, 2001

Redford returns to the prison drama, as he must bring down a corrupt military warden. Okay, I think we have seen this one before.

Robert Redford stars in “Last Castle”, the first of two Redford films coming to multiplexes this winter. Redford plays General Eugene Irwin who has been sent to the military prison known as the “castle”. Irwin just wants to serve his time and get out.

Things change for Irwin when tested by the prison’s warden, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini). Winter is a man obsessed with precision and order. His office reflects his admiration for the military and the order of combat.

The tension begins to mount when Irwin witnesses the murder of an inmate by a guard and knows that Col. Winter is not a man fit for command. Irwin begins a crusade to get Col. Winter to resign. Can Irwin disrupt Winter’s order to succeed at his mission?

“Last Castle” is your typical prison drama with the ever-so-pure inmate seeking to outwit a corrupt warden. Castle’s originality severely lacks in the first hour and a half but the final “chess game” that decides the film is a lot of fun.

However unlike other prison films of the past, this prisoner (Irwin) accepts he is guilty and isn’t seeking to be vindicated for being innocent.

Redford is stoic as he plays the General more as a man of honor than as a man of brawn. If the General were played as a man of brawn than the casting people probably would have cast someone like Sylvester Stallone. This isn’t Redford’s first prison drama.

In 1980 Redford starred in “Brubaker” which told the story of a warden who disguises himself as an inmate to find the corruption within.

His character in both films have a lot of similarities in that in each he is finding an honest and noble approach to fixing prison corruption.

The sad point is that in “Castle”, Redford isn’t allowed to explode through his performance like he did in “Brubaker”. Irwin is too much of a steadfast general. I would have liked to have seen him verbally square off against Gandolfini.

For the first 90 minutes, I could also see a lot of influence in this film from other prison dramas, like the classic prison drama, “Cool Hand Luke”. I wonder what this film would be like if “Luke” himself Paul Newman would have played opposite Redford.

That would be an amazing piece of filmmaking except the dramatic tensions and confrontations would have to intensify to incorporate to great actors.

I think the filmmakers were trying to go for a film about strategy, intelligence and the power within a military mind instead they got a typical prison drama with a kick ass finale.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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