So often these days, watching a movie means pinpointing how many other movies it references — and The Last Castle is a cross between Stalag 17 and Cool Hand Luke with a dash of Amadeus. In the moments before the first meeting between Col. Winter (James Gandolfini), the warden of a maximum-security military prison dubbed “the castle,” and Gen. Irwin (Robert Redford), the distinguished soldier who will become his most troublesome inmate, the colonel’s office is filled with the classical music not of Mozart, but Salieri.
It’s obvious that Winter, a fussy functionary who fastidiously collects military paraphernalia and has risen through the ranks without seeing battle, is like Amadeus’ court composer: Able but not inspired, manipulative enough to get himself elevated, but so afraid of real talent and initiative that he quashes any potential rivals. But Irwin is the real deal, a born leader whose battle strategies are models of original thinking and brave execution, a soft-spoken man ready to do his time for committing the ultimate crime: letting down his men. Their battle for supremacy will be a bloody one, because neither man is prepared to lose.
The Last Castle is an odd pastiche of genres, a prison story crossed with a war film, an action movie which is about pride, not reward. Director and West Point graduate Rod Lurie (Deterrence, The Contender) doesn’t necessarily embrace Irwin’s utopian vision (the castle as a fortress, not a prison), but firmly believes that the best thing for these inmates is to allow them to become soldiers again.
Honor is what’s at stake here and Lurie clearly understands its importance. Yet he’s unable to inject this story with the gravity it so desperately needs. Which makes The Last Castle seem little more than an elaborate game of capture the flag.
Visit the official The Last Castle Web site at www.thelastcastle.com.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.