“The Last Castle” is a crowd-pleaser of a movie, full of rah-rah flag-waving sentiment and stoic patriotism. There is little point in reviewing a movie like this, but all of us have jobs that seem a little pointless at times.
Robert Redford, in his first on-screen appearance since 1998’s “The Horse Whisperer,” plays Gen. Eugene Irwin, a highly decorated war hero who has been court-martialed and sent to a military prison. His fellow soldiers-turned-inmates revere him as much as they did on the outside, and even the warden, Col. Winter (James Gandolfini, from “The Sopranos”), says, “They should be naming a base after this man, not sending him here.”
For a long time, we don’t know what Irwin did to get sent up the river. It’s clear from his behavior, though, that he either a) didn’t do it or b) had a darn good reason for doing it. No way is he actually a “bad guy.” He probably stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving family.
Winter, the film would have us believe, is the bad guy. Apparently, his methods of maintaining peace in the prison have been unorthodox at best, and men have died. Irwin plans an uprising, turning the inmates back into an army — his army.
The pieces are all there, but the film, directed by Rod Lurie (“The Contender”), doesn’t gel. Winter simply is not made to seem evil enough to warrant the actions taken against him. He orders a man shot and he orders prisoners roughed up, but HE is not the one actually doing it. Maybe a scene of him personally abusing someone, or him covering up evidence, or him killing a puppy — anything would have helped. As it is, we are told in words but not actions that he’s a bad guy, and frankly, I felt sorry for him by the end. He reminded me of a substitute teacher we had in fifth grade whom we abused simply because he was The Enemy and we were brats.
Redford commands respect as Gen. Irwin. There is nothing not to like about him, which is what one expects in a Robert Redford. Mark Ruffalo is good as a weaselly prison bookie (he takes bets on how long Irwin will last before committing suicide), and Delroy Lindo has a good cameo as a military buddy of Irwin’s.
The film handles itself fairly well for an hour or so, but when it gets to the anarchy part of the story, it employs every cliché known to man and leaves all believability behind. But it stirs the soul a little and makes you smile now and then. It’s a movie that makes you want to rally behind it, even though you have a sneaking suspicion that when the dust settles, you’ll realize it wasn’t much of a movie after all.
B- (; )