The Last Castle

The Last Castle (2001)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Robert Redford, James Galdofini, Delroy Lindo, Mark Ruffalo
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Trailer, Biographies

It has been too long that Robert Redford appeared in a movie and as a result "The Last Castle" – along with "Spy Game" – was a movie I was really looking forward to. It is the story of highly decorated army general Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) who is sent to prison after being court-martialed for disobeying an order, which eventually cost eight men their lives. The military prison he is sent to is a facility known as "The Castle, " run by Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), a man whose character we will see exposed during the course of the film. Initially Winter is full of admiration for Irwin, a man he considers a hero who saved countless lives in the wars he fought throughout the world to serve and protect his country. Winter is a collector of military memorabilia and overhears Irwin make a derogatory remark about the collection and Winter’s own military abilities. Infuriated, he decides to teach the man he once idolized a lesson during the time he’d serve in his prison.

Very soon Irwin finds out that the prison is run with an iron fist that does not exclude murdering the inmates if they fall out of line. Also hailed as a hero among the prisoners, Irwin soon finds himself the man everyone looks up to. The inmates wish the injustice and cruelty to stop and ask Irwin to use his contacts in the Pentagon to make the injustice known to the forces in command. Irwin refuses, knowing he would not be able to get heard, and instead attempts to force Winter into resignation. When it fails he decides to set up his own forces, his own army, an army of prisoners within the prison walls. Like a chess game he plans to take over the prison and force Winter into submission – with force if need be. Soon the two powerful men collide head-on and a war ensues within the prison walls, lead by one of the army’s most brilliant strategists.

I have to admit that "The Last Castle" has its good and bad sides. Fortunately both are well distributed, making it a thoroughly enjoyable movie at all times. On the one hand the story is hardly innovative and the clichéed characters are overly familiar from a thousand-and-one other movies of similar theme. The film paints an image that is utterly black-and-white and never takes the time to give characters much depth, resulting in a fight that is illustrated a pure evil against pure good, where a lot of dimension and shades could have been added. The plot is predictable for the most part and also offers little more than standard fare.
However, the film manages to create the main characters so intriguing that they are fun to watch. This is clearly the result of Redford’s subtle, yet charismatic, play and Gandolfini’s cold bitterness that he puts into the part. They both excel and make great opponents. Visually, the films also offers a series of great shot sequences and beautiful imagery that is especially interesting in its image framing on many occasions. Add to that Jerry Goldsmith’s score and the chess-like strategy that Irwin pursues in the game, and you have a film that allows you to think along in your head, always trying to predict each party’s next move.

Dreamworks Home Entertainment presents "The Last Castle" in a 2.40:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets on this release. The image is immaculately clean and free of defects or blemishes. The transfer is highly detailed and perfectly reproduces every bit of detail, from the subtle texture of the clothing, to the tiniest crevices in the walls and atmospheric effects, such as the rain and smoke. Colors are faithfully reproduced and always bold, though never over-saturated. Flesh tones look extremely lifelike giving the film a natural look that is pleasing and absolutely adequate in capturing the somber atmosphere within the prison walls. Combined with the deep blacks, the image has a lot of visual depth. No notable edge-enhancement has been applied to the transfer, creating an image that has a sharp, film-like quality that never appears exaggerated or unnatural. The compression is also without flaws, making "The Last Castle" a great-looking DVD.

A very active and aggressive <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track and a <$DTS,DTS> track perfectly complement the visual presentation of the film. Making very good use of the surround channels, at times you hear noise engulfing you in these splendid tracks. Whether it is the talk of prisoner echoing from all directions within the halls of the prison or the special audio effects of helicopters flying overhead, the audio of the film is nicely integrated and also leaves a very good impression. Dialogue is integrated in a manner that ensures it always remain understandable and is never drowned out by the sound effects or the music at any volume level.

"The Last Castle" comes with a number of bonus materials, such as a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring director Rod Lurie. The commentary is quite conversational and Lurie’s enthusiasm is often infectious as he goes through various aspects of the production. Not only does he cover the production in technical terms, but also has a great deal of information and anecdotes to share about his cast, and Robert Redford in particular. Give it a spin, it really contains some great bits of information.

You can also find the "HBO First Look" featurette "Inside The Castle Walls" on the disc, but like most of them, it is a promotional piece with little information with the sole purpose to drive people into movie theaters when the film was originally released.

A series of deleted scenes can also be found on the disc, and while they’re interesting to explore, it quickly becomes evident why they were removed from the film. Most of them are unnecessary padding that would have made the film much drier and slowed down plot development. The release is rounded out with the film’s theatrical trailer, Production Notes and Biographies.

While "The Last Castle" was not the movie highlight I had hoped for, it was a highly entertaining movie that I enjoyed. There could have been more to it, but just seeing Redford and Gandolfini battle it out with each other is something definitely worth seeing. You may want to make a note to check out this release some time.