THE LAST CASTLE, an audience-pleaser Robert Redford vehicle from 2001, has the durable, always watchable star showing that he still had it to throw around at 64 (he did the entertaining Spy Game the same year), in a nifty battle of wits drama set in a military prison, his opponent the great James Gandolfini.
In disgrace for violating White House orders, with men killed as a result, distinguished ‘Lt.General Eugene Irwin’ (Redford) gets a 10-year sentence in a military prison, run with maximum security and harsh treatment by ‘Col. Winter’, a career soldier and bully who’s never seen action. The calm and inspiring Irwin’s attempts at restoring the prisoners crushed dignity pierces Winter’s thin skin: the stage is set for a confrontation that pits the inmates against their captors. Winter and his brutal staff seem to have all the cards, but ingenuity, integrity, desperation and guts are on the side of the general and ‘his’ troops.
The interplay between the two charismatic stars is so good (Gandolfini is especially telling) and the conclusion, with Irwin and the inmates coming up with a variety of weapons and tactics to use to defend themselves against and stymie their tormentors, is so old-fashioned rousing that you overlook the unlikely aspects—like “how could they manage all this without getting caught”? Entertaining to watch, even if in retrospect you see the loopholes and flaws. Big deal, it’s a decent film, and works as companion piece with Redford’s other prison picture, 1980s Brubaker.
Directed by Rod Lurie, written by David Scarpa and Graham Yost. Made for a hefty price tag of $72,000,000, sadly it became a major flop, grossing just $27,643,000, limping into 103rd place for the year. Fans of Redford and Gandolfini will dig it. Count us in.
Filmed at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville, running 131 minutes, with Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo, Robin Wright, Paul Calderon, Clifton Collins Jr. (excellent), Brian Goodman, David Alford. Typically effective music score by Jerry Goldsmith.