The Last Castle

By Mark Ramsey | 2001/10/13

Director Rod Lurie makes movies like it’s 1970 – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyone who’s ever strolled across a shag carpet will find The Last Castle, like The Contender before it, feeling like the big-screen equivalent of an old soft platform shoe. It’s a return to the day when the big boy names were Beatty, McQueen, Hackman, Hoffman, Newman, and…Redford.

These days, Bob Redford’s Greek God looks are more of the Grecian Formula variety, but his on-screen appearances are rare enough to make every one a welcome jewel.


Bob’s a disgraced and court-martialed multi-star general with a heart as golden as his eternally and preternaturally fair hair. His foe is James “Tony Soprano” Gandolfini who, in camo-gear, looks like a deciduous forest with legs – or at least stumps. Bob’s the high-principled leader of the inmates at this military prison, and Tony’s the unethical, brutally cruel warden.

And what we got here is a failure to communicate.

On one hand, this movie’s timing and its undercurrent of morality and courage is propitious. On the other hand, Bob’s goal is to get the tyrannical Gandolfini to resign, yet these are days when a sadistic military prison commandant is a pretty featherweight definition of evil. Getting the mean old boss fired is dramatic cotton candy compared to the gravitas of real-life.

To keep his prisoners occupied, Gandolfini has them rebuild an old prison in the yard. Yes, a prison within the prison. Well, they say it was a prison, but in most scenes it looks more like a wall, and a short one at that. Was this a munchkin prison?

The original prison dates to the 1870′s when its two most notorious residents, Jean Valjean and The Count of Monte Christo, used to watch each other’s back in the men’s shower.

At this military prison, the inmates are not allowed to salute each other, since regulations limit them to whistles, cat-calls, and the occasional pinch on the ass.

Bob gets uppity, so Gandolfini punishes him into moving big stones from one corner of the grounds to another, back and forth. As if Bob’s on-screen romance to Barbra Streisand wasn’t punishment enough. This must be what it’s like to move that overpriced leather sofa from the Sundance Catalog around my house – the one I purchased in my wildest dreams.

lastcastle_count.jpgFortunately, punishment is unlikely to be fatal since all the bullets are rubber, just like Gandolfini’s underwear.

Eventually, our heroes can take no more, so Bob illustrates how they’re going to take over the prison using chess pieces. Unfortunately, Bob had no queen so nobody learned to move diagonally.

Takeover, schmakeover. Trouble is, the bad guys are shooting rubber and the good guys don’t have any weapons at all. Thus, what follows is weapons-improv of MacGuyver-istic proportions.

This is a “castle,” after all, so the inmates relentlessly hammer the metaphor and devise crazy medieval armaments like slingshots and catapults. I’m not kidding! They use food trays as shields which is the best argument I can imagine for keeping Braveheart out of the hands of cafeteria workers.

That food tray shield thing may protect against rubber bullets, but when I tried that safety technique in 5th grade I got my ass kicked anyway.

To put down the revolt, Tony Soprano calls on his water cannon. I guess he’s holding back on his most powerful weapons: badminton birdies, water balloons, and that dreaded ultimate punishment: Going to bed without dinner.

In a fit of budget-busting, costar Mark Ruffalo snakes a chopper, wastes a nasty tower rifleman, and crashes into the yard where his chopper rolls over, roaring in flames. Fortunately, he emerges with only a couple scratches, suggesting his presence in last year’s Oscar-nominated You Can Count On Me invested him with super flame-retardant and shock-resistant properties! Go, Mark!

It’s not giving anything away to say the capper scene features soldiers saluting the U.S. Flag, flapping in the breeze. This will likely inspire fits of applause in the theater for obvious reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with this movie.

But I, for one, will take it.

Photos Copyright ©2001 DreamWorks SKG


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