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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Last Castle

A prison drama with a slight twist

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 19, 2001 -- "The Last Castle" (U.K. title is "The Tower") is a fairly standard prison drama, along the lines of the 1965 prison drama "The Hill," but with a slight twist: it is also about a war game.

Robert Redford stars as General Eugene Irwin a highly-regarded general who is court-martialed and sentenced to eight years in a military prison. The prison is run by Colonel Winter (played by James Gandolfini of "The Mexican"), a tough, sadistic man who respects Irwin. He quickly becomes Irwin's enemy, however, when Winter finds that Irwin does not respect him because of his lack of combat experience. It becomes a battle of wills. Irwin just wants to serve his time and go home, but he can't back down from the challenge offered by Winter. He also sees the needless suffering of the prisoners under Winter's command.

Irwin is an excellent strategist and a born leader of men. He decides to use his skills against Winter, who rules by fear alone. Well, I've said enough, you can see where this one is going right away. While this is a pretty standard prison drama plot structure ("Stalag 17," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," etc.), it eventually changes to a war game plot. At times, the war game aspect of the film is almost playful, even though some people get killed in this game. It seems as though it should have been more playful, or more serious. It ends up being a compromise.

Redford and Gandolfini are both effective in this film. Redford plays a man who is battle-tested, relaxed and confident, while Gandolfini plays a man who is wound way too tight for his own good or anyone else's. Also good are Steve Burton, who plays Captain Peretz, the real power behind Colonel Winter, Clifton Collins Jr., who plays Corp. Ramon Aguilar, the son of a bricklayer, Delroy Lindo of "The Cider House Rules," who plays Gen. James Wheeler, Brian Goodman, an actor who really was in prison once, plays prisoner Beaupre. One of the military prisoners, Doc Lee, is played by an actor whose name is a homonym, Frank Military. Paul Calderon, who plays Sgt. Maj. Dellwo is a standout among the supporting cast.

The most impressive thing about the film is the location shots at the historic Tennessee State Penetentiary. The old prison was closed in 1992 after being in service nearly 100 years. It is architecturally stunning and it really does resemble a castle. It is a perfect setting for the film. Production values are high in the film, with a very classy production design by Kirk M. Petruccelli ("The Patriot"), and a solid musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. Alas, the script, by David Scarpa and Graham Yost, does not live up to the rest of the talent. It is not a realistic story at all and it is predictable and derivative. The characters are one-dimensional and they lack the kind of depth needed to draw the viewer into the story. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2001 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)