Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
|Featuring:||Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Clifton Collins Jr., Delroy Lindo|
One of my favorite games growing up was “Capture the Flag”. You would divide up into several teams and each team had a flag to protect. If a team lost their flag, they lost their power. Having directed a youth camp for three years, I have passed this game of strategy on to others as this game became one of the highlights. Even the cheesy (and now very dated) Atari 2600 version, “Flag Capture”, was liked by me.
Watching “The Last Castle” is like observing a group of adults playing “Capture the Flag” on the big screen. Somewhere along the way, the film also tries to present noble themes of respect, honor, and self-worth. Most of this flic, however, just simply deals with the strategies involved over a struggle for power.
Director Rod Lurie, who is himself a West Point graduate, has an eye for detail in this patriotic story. He selected the century-old Tennessee State Penitentiary for his shots of realism. This gothic five-tiered lockup is almost like one of the lead characters. It has a menacing look, which includes an authentic Death Row and an electric chair chamber. I have been by this prison and believe that it is almost as creepy looking as the Ohio State Reformatory (Mansfield, Ohio), which was near my hometown and used in “The Shawshank Redemption.” The Tennessee State location was used in 1984 for the Sissy Spacek film “Marie” and the 1989 film “Ernest Goes to Jail”. The list also includes 1994’s “Against the Wall”, 1996’s “Last Dance”, and 1999’s “The Green Mile”.
125 people were put to death on those grounds. The confessed killer, James Earl Ray (of Martin Luther King Jr. infamy) was imprisoned there. Elvis Presley came and visited convicted rapist Johnny Bragg (a member of the R&B group The Prisonaires). Cinematographer Shelly Johnson did a great job capturing the prison’s intimidating atmosphere. The main problem that I had with the project was the script by David Scarpa and Graham Yost. It seemed rather adolescent for an adult version of this genre.
Our story is about two men. One has seen battle and the other just collects souvenirs. One has demonstrated military genius and the other recalls historic facts from books. One has earned his influence and respect and the other is a bureaucrat that just gives orders. The one is three-star Gen. Eugene Irwin (Robert Reford) and the other is Col. Winter (James Gandolfini). Gen. Irwin is a Hanoi POW, hero of the Gulf and Bosian campaigns. He finds himself court-martialed because he disobeyed a direct order from the President. This mistake cost the lives of eight men and 10 years of his life in a military lock-up. We see the hardships of prison life and the morale of the prisoners daily threatened and manipulated. Some of the men who idolize Irwin come to him for solutions to these problems. It isn’t long before we see the jealousy of Col. Winter evolve into a bitter rivalry. He is miffed at how easily the men follow Gen. Irwin and desires to make an example of him. Word of prison unrest reaches one of Irwin’s friends, Gen. Wheeler (Delroy Lindo). The conflicts build and Col. Winter invests his hopes in an inmate/bookie named Yates (Mark Ruffalo). The story continues to unfold until the conclusion feels like a well-played game of chess.
“The Last Castle” is fairly predictable. Robert Reford provides plenty of star power. I imagine some other big named stars might have spoiled this role. There is a strong undercurrent of profanity. The f-word is used several times but it is never a principal part of the dialogue. You mainly here it muttered in the cell blocks or out in the yard by nameless characters that are seldom on camera. There is some violence and overall the offensive material is mild for an R-rated film. My guess is that most of these elements were thrown in to cross over the PG-13 borders. I would recommend this film with the above cautions. It has a strong sense of value and just the right dose of patriotism thrown in. We all know how this game is going to end, but I still can’t resist observing the strategies in a good version of “Capture the Flag”. I give the film a B+ and yes, dads with older teen boys in the house—go ahead if the above-mentioned negative content isn’t too much for you.
…37 F-words and its derivatives… 1 religious profanity, 3 religious exclamations…
…glued to your seat the whole time…