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"The Last Castle"

Directed by Rod Lurie.
Written by David Scarpa and Graham Yost.
Starring Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo and James Gandolfini. 
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  10/26/01


I rolled over to the local AMC theater for a matinee today, since movies here are on the cheap at dusk (4-6 PM).  I had wanted to see "From Hell" but it wasn't playing at the within-walking-distance theater, so I settled on the Robert Redford prison drama "The Last Castle."

My first question:  is Robert Redford a dinosaur?  It seems as if he has been appearing in movies forever.  It also seems that in "The Last Castle", he dialed M for Big Bag of Money, because he dials this performance in like nobody's business.  This is the prototype for an actor that is "living on reputation."  Delivering his lines like a movie star--and not an actor--Redford's stoic three-star general is so emotionless that the film simply has no heart for the first 3/4 of the running time.  Sent to a high-security prison that harbors only disgraced veterans of our nation's armed forces, Redford's General Irwin is content to just sit by and wait for his ten-year sentence to come to a close.  Unfortunately, this would be a pretty shitty movie if Irwin did just that.

My second question:  is James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos") the only reason to see this film?  Almost.  Once again (he also was the only reason to see the piss-poor adventure "The Mexican"), he saves a picture from pure formula by painting a portrait of a more interesting prison warden than movies of this type care to afford.  Gandolfini plays Colonel Winter, a by-the-book type that truly respects the accomplishments of General Irwin but puts the general in his place by immediately taking advantage of him.  Of course, the other inmates don't take too well to that...since it seems that everyone has already heard of this guy and after watching him lug 25-pound rocks around the prison courtyard, all the prisoners think he is a total badass.

There are other characters in the film, but Delroy Lindo's throwaway general and Mark Ruffalo's prison bookie character are so tried and true I thought the writers of the film would just call Ruffalo's character "Red", to wink at the performance of Morgan Freeman in "The Shawshank Redemption", a much superior prison drama.  Robin Wright Penn shows up for exactly one scene as Redford's scorned daughter, and one wonders how much it added to the film to have her scene included at all.

The movie's finale--where Irwin leads the prisoners in an uprising against Winter and his staff--is very good and very creative, but it takes 90 minutes to get to that point, and much like this summer's heist flick "The Score", something just seems boring about the proceedings leading up to the climax.  The movie is an attractive presentation, well shot, and reasonably acted.  But, much like Gandolfini's character, director Rod Lurie's production is so by-the-numbers that there is almost no suspense throughout the film.  And, the film features almost no musical score, and no really tense sequences, until that ending.  Judging from its fifth-place opening last weekend, this film will be on DVD by Christmas!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09