The Last Castle

Directed by Rod Lurie
Starring: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Delroy Lindo, Clifton Collins Jr., Robin Wright Penn.
MPAA Rating: R for language and violence.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
October 28, 2001

I saw The Last Castle over a week ago, and I didn't have my PalmPilot, so I couldn't take notes. I still have some vague impressions of the film, most of which are positive. It has a good cast and a fairly uncommon setting: a modern military prison.

Well, "modern" may be pushing it a bit. The film takes place in the present time, but the prison is quite old-fashioned. It resembles a medieval fortress, thus the title. As the opening narration says, this castle is different from traditional castles in only one respect: it was designed to keep people in. It has succeeded in this purpose throughout the tenure of commandant Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), who rules the prison through a reign of terror.

When General Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) arrives (complete in dress uniform with three stars on each shoulder) to serve his sentence, he learns about some of Col. Winter's innapropriate behavior, which has occasionally led to the death of inmates. At first he tries to just do his time in peace, but when he sees the abuse first hand, he rises up to lead his fellow soldier-inmates in a battle to remove Winter from his office.

For his third film, director Rod Lurie continues to tell stories about the public sector, but without the President being involved (as in Deterrence and The Contender). With a military setting, he can't include any trademark liberal soapbox speeches, so he has to resort to the theme of human rights (which is liberal enough, I suppose).

He certainly doesn't break any ground with this theme in a prison film, but he does succeed in telling a good story. Having strong leads like Redford and Gandolfini doesn't hurt, either. Their subtle, strong performances help the film a great deal, especially when the territory becomes too familiar.

It looks like this may be Lurie's farewell to the federal government, but his prison sentence isn't over yet. His next film will be Clink, Inc., which is about a Wall Streer banker doing time. It would be nice to see him really break away and do something like the next Harry Potter film, but I'll still look forward to whatever he brings to the screen.

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The Last Castle (2001)

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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan