Directed by Rod Lurie, starring Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo and Robin Wright-Penn.
Apart from a disappointingly flat final ten minutes, Rod Lurie's 'The Contender' did enough to suggest that audiences and critics alike could look forward with enthusiasm to his second feature. How wrong we were. For 'The Contender', read pacy, sharp and highly engrossing. For 'The Last Castle', read pointless, pedestrian and, ultimately, pathetic.
Robert Redford plays Eugene Irwin, an erstwhile decorated and admired general who has been sent to the Castle prison for violating an executive order. A foreboding military penitentiary, the Castle is presided over by the slyly despotic Colonel Winter (Gandolfini). Irwin is determined to ride out his stretch as quietly and painlessly as possible, a point that is drilled home in an early, totally pointless exchange with his daughter (Wright-Penn) – she visits him, tells him he's a crap father and is never seen again!
But General Irwin is, as the filmmakers are so eager to point out, a born leader; courageous, honourable and unflinchingly loyal to his flag. Yet no matter how hard Lurie and writer Graham Yost try to portray him as the good guy, Irwin still comes across as a megalomaniac bully, unable to accept subordinance in any walk of life. When the other inmates inform Irwin of the nefarious methods used by Winter to retain command, Irwin soon forgets about his plan for an incident-free stretch and sets about initiating a revolt to topple Winter and seize control. What follows is arguably the most irritating spectacle of flag-waving dross in quite a while. Redford is John Wayne, the inmates are his mules and Gandolfini is the evil injun. The battle for control of the Castle becomes wrapped up in the symbolism of the stars and stripes – there can be only one winner.
After impressing with his debut, former film critic Lurie has destroyed all of his credibility in the space of two hours with this display of jaundiced jingoism. Perhaps the most damning indictment of 'The Last Castle' lies in the fact that even when US audiences could be forgiven for liking something this blatantly rabble-rousing (the wake of September 11), they still panned it. That says it all really. The performances and the setpieces are passable enough, although one would have to question the judgement of Redford and Gandolfini after agreeing to appear in something this weak.
Wait for the video. Then leave it on the shelf.