These castle walls

The Last Castle

Directed By Rod Lurie

(Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton)

R

 

The Last Castle is unique for its bold intentions. In a year of films that have been content with the middle ground, writer Steven Scarpa delivers a gutsy debut.

He finds a balance between a fresh story and a cliched genre. Like The Shawshank Redemption, the story follows one man in prison and his relationship with the warden. Like Crimson Tide, these two dominant figures go head to head in a movie about ethics and ego.

Scarpa’s sheer passion for his message overpowers this predictability. Yes, we’ve seen stuff like this before, but its just too damn good to get bored with.

Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini) is the cold commander of a military prison. General Irwin (Robert Redford) is a decorated soldier that has become the prison’s newest inmate. Irwin is stripped of rank and reduced to merely another in the prison’s population. His strength and power, however, soon surface as he witnesses Winter’s mistreatment of the prisoners, and he leads a revolt to revoke Winter’s command.

While Gandolfini’s and Redford’s talent surely add to the film’s emotion, their success comes mostly from the story. The charismatic Redford of Sneakers and The Sting replaces a Schwarzenegger-like hero towering over the action; he becomes a quiet, reflective man, confident enough to speak quietly and carry a big stick.

Director Rod Lurie becomes the story’s greatest hindrance. As Scarpa succeeds with passionate ideas, Lurie continuously threatens to entomb the material with mediocre conventions. Perhaps the worst offense occurs during a thrilling final battle, when Redford emerges from a crashed helicopter and must run towards the camera just before the obligatory explosion.

Yet, despite Lurie, The Last Castle keeps its grip. Its unsinkable story is about people coming together against oppression, in rising up for what is just and in having the dignity to challenge with every fiber of their being.

-Steven Snyder

 

The Last Castle opens today in theaters nationwide.