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'The Last Castle'

Craggy Redford leads cast in male-rebellion fantasy

Friday, October 19, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Into the maximum security military prison is escorted craggy, legendary but now disgraced three-star Gen. Robert Redford. It's not easy to be legendary, craggy and disgraced, but such is the general's dilemma: Court-martialed and stripped of his rank for a to-be-announced crime, he's now a lowly inmate like the rest of 'em in this combination of "Cool Hand Luke" and "One Flew Over the Correctional Cuckoo's Nest."

'The Last Castle'

RATING: R for language and violence

STARRING: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Clifton Collins Jr., Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo


WEB SITE: www.thelastcastle.com



Since the warden, Col. Winter (James Gandolfini), admires him, he could do easy time. But right off the bat, Gen. Redford manages to insult the despotic commandant, who cruelly provokes and suppresses a riot to demonstrate his authority and who says "make no mistake about it" more often than George W. Bush.

Cool Hand Bob is so polite and casual. It's hard to believe, during a stiff visit with his daughter, that he was such a lousy dad. He looks for the good in all the bad hombres around him, and finds it -- especially in the stuttering Aguilar (nicely played in Sal Mineo fashion by Clifton Collins Jr. of "Traffic"), who has a Whitman's Sampler of facial tics and is forced to stand out in the rain all night for the infraction of saluting Redford.

You get the idea: It's about leadership and the qualities thereof in a battle for humane control of the prison. Redford, looking older and craggier than necessary, soon earns himself a nasty rock-carrying punishment like Stations of the Cross. He and Jesus fall for the first, second and third times.

You can take the general out of the military but not vice versa, and these inmates know a natural-born leader when they see one, especially a blond one -- there are so few craggy, blond, sex-symbol role models in prison these days: "Gentlemen, I propose we seize control of this facility!" he announces.

The main catalytic issue is a wall that the prisoners are forced to rebuild with the help of Aguilar's brains, which will soon be spilling out onto the ground. At that point, the real military rebellion begins -- using ad-hoc catapults, battering rams, linked-shield phalanx formations and other variants on ancient Greco-Roman-Viking implements of war.

Pleasantly enough, the guards never use real ammo -- just rubber bullets and water cannon. Hardly anybody really gets killed during the insurrection. Even after commandeering and crashing a burning helicopter, inmate-bookie Mark Ruffalo emerges with just a cut on the forehead and a few minor scratches -- nothing a tube of Neosporin won't take care of.

Gandolfini as King of the Castle eerily resembles Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" with a low camera angle on him all the time that makes him look like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." He's very good. It would be impolite to examine dear old Robert Redford's wooden delivery and acting style too closely.

Director Rod Lurie ("The Contender") gives us an engaging, old-fashioned, stacked-deck "guy flick," whose fairytale ending lays on the patriotic icing with a post-9/11, post-production heavy hand.

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