The Last Castle (2001)

Maybe if Paul Newman had tagged along, than this would have been a cooler prison.

Robert Redford stars as a three-star general who has just been sentenced to 10-years for unknown crimes. He’s sent to a prison that houses military convicts nicknamed the castle. Running this institution is Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), a meek-looking bear of a man who’s unafraid of doing what ever it takes to maintain order.

With any prison movie, you have to make us care and feel something for the prisoners that we are supposed to watch for the whole 2 hours. And even if you don’t do that, you have to at least try to and make somebody look much, much worse than they already do. This is something that director Rod Lurie couldn’t seem to get his head behind.

I can’t say that I hated this film because I sort of enjoyed it, even though it’s basically another generic prison flick with plenty of problems when it comes to its script and one of its biggest problems is it didn’t make much sense. First of all, why does this huge break-out even go down in the first place? Why, because a murderer didn’t follow an order and in doing so, he got shot in the head? I mean I can understand retaliating against something that is completely and utterly unfair but this dude wasn’t listening when he should have been and instead got blasted for it. Does that mean that a whole jail full of people should just go insane, destroying millions and millions of dollars of government money, killing/hurting prison guards, and losing other prisoners in the mix, just so you could prove a point? Come on people, isn’t there a better way to solve this rather than just going full-on coo-coo for Coco Puffs?

Speaking of these prisoners going crazy, it also seemed unbelievable that these prisoners could pull off such an invasion as the one they pull in the last sequence of the flick. It’s not like I’m giving much away by saying this because it’s pretty damn obvious just by looking at the trailers and posters, but what bothered me was how they could pull such an invasion like this that would require so much planning, so many coincidences, and so many close calls of actually having another prison snitch on them, or having a guard picking up on the plan. It also didn’t help that they pretty much planned all of this shit out within a week, which made it even harder to believe that it would work out THIS well.

But don’t get me wrong here peeps, this film isn’t a total waste, actually, it’s pretty entertaining once you can get past all of those holes. The last half hour, where the invasion goes down, is actually very entertaining to watch and it actually feels a bit unpredictable as to who’s going to live and what’s actually going to go down. I don’t want to say that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time because most of this does come out as some pretty predictable stuff, but I still think that Lurie had a good eye for action and knowing how to keep the energy pumping, even if it only was in the last 30 minutes. Also, if you’re a big patriotic person, you’re going to love all of the several themes about war, soldiers, and showing pride for the country you love. Hoooorah!!

The cast is pretty good here, even though I think they are sort of wasted on cheap material. Robert Redford is basically playing Robert Redford in a very stoic role here as Gen. Eugene Irwin. I could easily buy Redford as the hero and the guy that everybody in the prison basically looked up to as if he was Santa Claus himself, but I do think that by the end of the flick, they start to get a little carried away with his random montages about the good old days of being trapped as a POW. Oh, the war torture! Those bring back the memories. Mark Ruffalo is also OK in a role that seems like it deserved more development, just to suit Ruffalo’s acting.

However, the other problem I left out with this film earlier came back to me just now and it was that this flick didn’t have much character depth to these members of the “chain gang” and even when it did, it came off as way too contrived to be taken seriously. Basically, every prisoner here has a heart of gold. This is a person, which means that this is a place that is full of drug dealers, killers, rapists, smugglers, pedophiles, and all sorts of other baddies, which made me wonder why not one of them ever shows any signs of giving these guys some trouble. I get it that not every person you put in prison is a mean s.o.b., but everybody sure as hell isn’t a disciple of the lord himself, either.

I think out of this whole cast, I really liked James Gandolfini here as Col. Winter. Gandolfini is basically playing Gandolfini but it works and gives this character a very self-conscious look that isn’t sympathetic at all, but still makes you look at him more than just another piece of shit warden that only gets off on watching these prisoners suffer every day. Wish Gandolfini got more roles like this because he can play a good villain that has a bit more to him than people may see at first. Then again, the dude was the leading man on one of TV’s biggest shows of the past decade so he can’t complain too much I guess.

Consensus: With a lot of holes in its screenplay when it comes to its characters and plot, The Last Castle doesn’t hit you as hard as it should, but with a reliable cast and entertaining feel to it, especially with the last 30 minutes or so, it still will keep your attention. Especially, if you love America.



  1. Good stuff, and that has nothing to with me pretty much having the same opinion on this film as you 😉 Saw this back in ’01 at the theater and I remember feeling like I had watched two different films; the serious prison drama and then the sudden shift into an action spectacle in the last half hour — complete with characters running away from explosions.

    You bring up a good point on how Last Castle (and a few other prison films), the filmmakers will try their hardest to make the audience forget that the majority of the people in there are locked up for a reason. In this film’s case, they do a better job of it because of all the inherent patriotism you mentioned; they may be killers, thieves, etc., but at least they were serving their country before getting locked up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s