Redford's Winter of Discontent
Having been Court-Martialled much decorated Lt. Gen. Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) finds himself sentenced to 10 years in a military prison under the gaze of Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini). Colonel Winter runs the prison with a rod of iron, but has always idolized Irwin, one of the most respected military leaders in modern history. When Irwin realises that Winter's methods of control include shooting prisoners that break his dictatorial rules he sets about rallying the rest of the inmates to form a make shift army and bring to end Winter's reign of terror.
There are many prisoner dramas but "The Last Castle" tries to give us a different take as it takes us inside the walls of a military prison full of disgraced soldiers and marines serving out their time under the watchful eyes of a ruthless Colonel. But sadly whilst giving us a different setting, some different characters and a bit of a twist on the normal prison drama storyline "The Last Castle" still ends up treading over very familiar ground with various cliche scenes being the staple of these prison movies. But that's not the real issues with "The Last Castle" the real issues are it's over long and suffers from the wrong casting making it an entertaining but average prison movie rather than something special.
As you can probably guess much of "The Last Castle" delivers some familiar set ups, we have the troublesome prison, the dictatorial warden and the new prisoner who makes a difference. It's the same thing which we see in other prison movies and even the covering of this being a military prison and the new prisoner being a heavily decorated Lieutenant General doesn't really change much when it comes to what "The Last Castle" is all about. Even when the storyline gathers pace and Irwin rallies the prisoners to take on Colonel Winter there is very little which strays from what is expected although to give it credit where it's due it does manage to throw up a couple of twists.
But the trouble is that "The Last Castle" is all very laborious, the set up of Irwin coming to the prison, his understanding of the dictatorial regime and his rallying of the prisoners takes far too long. In amongst some good scenes such as Irwin carrying rocks as a punishment there is a lot of not so much padding but superfluous scenes that re-iterate story elements already clearly made. It becomes all a little too much, a little arduous and actually over forces the points that these scenes are trying to make.
The other major issue is the casting of Robert Redford and not because he can't act, it's just that he's wrong to play a highly decorated leader of men. For so much of "The Last Castle" Redford's Irwin all most moves around the prison in a Zen like state, completely calm, completely in control and although not emotionless to the tough regime he is pretty much cold to it. It doesn't work because it makes the character all wrong and Redford does all this so well that he ends up being wrong as well. He is to put it bluntly still too good looking to play someone who had suffered years of military service and stuck in POW camps suffering worse punishments than those in the prison. Shame really, because I like Redford, I like what he does it's just wrong for this sort of movie where the main focus should be a lot tougher and time worn.
Aside from Robert Redford the rest of the cast do just enough not to be outshone with James Gandolfini doing an intelligent job of playing a very real military villain who is threatened by having such a high profile prisoner whose experience clearly outshines his own. Mark Ruffalo turns up as Yates, the basic hustler, in the prison who takes bets on everything and anything, a stereotypical role which it has to be said that Ruffalo plays in an entertaining but ultimately stereotypical way. And Delroy Lindo crops up in a few scenes as General Wheeler but in those few minutes he fails to make any sizable impact.
What this all boils down to is that that despite it being over long and in my opinion Robert Redford being wrong for the role, "The Last Castle" it still achieves what it sets out to do. It delivers that twist on your standard prison movie giving it a military setting and the honour as well as pride which goes with being in the service. It delivers those action scenes which at times impress with their entertaining but effective implausibility and in between all this delivers a clever idea for a movie.