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:: The Last Castle

Rod Lurie’s previous film, “The Contender”, was a taut, contentious political piece, with terrific performances and an intelligent script. It is difficult to see how he could have gone so wrong with his next effort, “The Last Castle”.

Robert Redford plays legendary General Irwin, who has been sent to a maximum-security military prison after pleading guilty in a court martial. There he meets and soon alienates the sadistic warden, played by James Gandolfini. When he refuses to help the inmates in their complaints against their treatment, we know it isn’t long before his sense of justice gets the better of him and he unites the prisoners with his unparalleled leadership skills. These are shown mainly through pompous and laughable speeches that he makes to inmates at any given opportunity. Not one moment of this film is credible and any tension is diffused by the uncharacteristically poor performances of a top cast. Redford is unconvincing as a tough military leader. Gandolfini seems to act through annoyingly loud breathing and Ruffalo, a stand out in “You Can Count On Me”, is disappointing with what seemed to be an exact reprisal of the role in that film, down to mannerisms and character. A brief cameo by Robin Wright Penn (The Pledge) as General Irwin’s estranged daughter, at least she wasn’t his wife, was heavy handed and unnecessary - her character left dangling.

There is much that shows potential in the story. The idea of a disgraced General taking orders from a simple warden is an interesting one, but screenwriters Graham Yost (Speed, Mission to Mars, Broken Arrow- none of which bode well) and David Scarpa waste every opportunity. Lurie, himself a military man, a graduate of West Point and a Combat Arms Officer in the U.S. Army, seemed unable to bring any of his own writing talent, having written as well as directed “The Contender”, to bear.

The patriotism and elevation of men in uniform might be just what America needs at the moment, but, as a drama, the film fails and, at over two hours, it takes far too long to get to its predictable conclusion. The only moment of pathos, when a character dies is undermined by unnecessary sentimentality.

Screening at Village Crown