A DVD REVIEW: THE LAST CASTLE (DreamWorks) [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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06-29-2005, 09:56 PM
I remember walking out of the theater after seeing this one with an ex of mine and not liking this James Gandolfini/Robert Redford "military prison thriller" all that much; it was mainly because Gandolfini was just trying SO hard to hide that "Tony Soprano" character in this film and his dialogue delivery was just off somehow; during this effort to supress the "Tony Soprano within," he exhibits a pathetically annoying lisp which resonates through every line of his dialogue and it became increasingly annoying after awhile. This wasnt one of Redford's best roles, either, but like so many other motion pictures (and I know this has happened to others, too) THE LAST CASTLE was one of those titles, when once re-visited on cable or DVD, that just seems to make you take a second look and enjoy it.

This DreamWorks release, loaded with a pretty kick-ass DTS track AND Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, was floating around stores like Target for under 10 bucks, and so I picked it up (not recently, but I have decided to write a review on it after re-watching it tonight) and it has been money worth spent because I have played the piss out of this disc since owning it. Let's go over the plot before I delve into the raw specifications on the disc itself; Gandolfini plays Col. Winter, a "warden" of sorts overlooking a rough military prison dubbed "The Castle". So sadistic is Gandolfini's character that random deaths have been taking place from rubber bullets being shot into inmates' heads; let's just say Winter rules his prison with an iron fist. Enter Robert Redford, a four-star General who has been court-martialed and sent to Gandolfini's prison. All seems well to begin with, as Redford gets comfortable with his new surroundings (after all, going from commanding thousands of troops in battle to sitting in an isolated cell cant be easy) but as the plot of THE LAST CASTLE develops, we see sub plots begin to emerge all over the place. To begin with, the prisoners, once learning this highly-decorated General has come into the prison, are immediately intrigued with his mere presence, and they confide in him telling him about the murders that have been taking place and just how sadistic Gandolfini is. At first, Redford wants nothing to do with listening to the prisoners, as he just wants to do his time, but once he gets a good look at just what is going on inside this prison, he begins to form a strategy to once again lead troops into battle --- this time, transforming the prisoners back into soldiers with pride. Court martialed for disobeying primary orders from the president which resulted in some of his men being killed, Redford's character (General Eugine R. Irwin, as I forgot to mention earlier in the review) has many inner demons to battle as he deals with these prisoners and their desire to uprise against Gandolfini, but it becomes clear to him that he must make this one last stand as a commanding officer.

While for most of the part entertaining, THE LAST CASTLE just feels like one of those films that once you finish watching it, you are left scratching your head thinking "what was the point of that?" Those of you who have seen the film know how it ends, with Redford getting the prisoners to follow his lead and riot against Gandolfini and all his security forces for the sole purpose of flying an American flag upside down to indicate that this "castle" has fallen and they are in distress. This would disgrace Gandolfini as the commanding officer of this facility, and cause his commanding officer, played by Delroy Lindo, to come in and take over operations. The ending has a bit of a twist, as Redford gets his "troops" to line up and refuse to obey Gandolfini's commands, even though there are rooftops full of snipers ready to shoot into the defiant prisoners --- and as Redford takes Gandolfini's stolen American flag and walks over to the pole to hang it (what we think) is upside down, Gandolfini shoots Redford dead --- but the film ends with us seeing that Redford actually raised the flag not upside down, but rightside up, leaving us with this feeling of "okay.....then what was the point of this prison uprising he staged?"

And something that didnt sit right with me with regard to the ending of THE LAST CASTLE was the fact that as Redford is walking towards the flagpole to raise the flag upside down, supposedly, why couldnt Gandolfini just order one of his marksmen to injure him by shooting him in the leg or foot or something; why did he have to be killed? Either way, Gandolfini's men turn on him anway and refuse to fire their weapons at Redford as he is walking with the flag, forcing Gandolfini to fire his own pistol which kills Redford; but was this necessary just to stop him from raising a flag? Wouldnt shooting him with, say, a rubber bullet, like the prison was using all along, to the hands or legs stop him without killing him? I didnt see this as necessary, but I guess the script called for Redford to die trying to prove his point that he would sacrifice his own life in order to expose corruption as seen in Gandolfini's prison.

There are some good backup performances by the aforementioned Delroy Lindo, as General Wheeler who is friends with Redford's character and wants to get him out of Gandolfini's prison but cant because he needs Gandolfini's acceptance which just wont happen because of the personal vendetta created between these two men, and also by Mark Ruffalo, who plays a defiant ex-army helicopter pilot who wants nothing to do with Redford's plot to take over the prison but is convinced to eventually turn against Gandolfini (who wants Ruffalo to become his "snitch" inside the prison to learn what Redford plans to do in terms of overtaking the facility).

All in all, this is a good night's entertainment which definitely played better in the home theater than it did in the public multiplex theater for some reason, and it is one of those motion pictures that just grows on you with each viewing. Lets take a look at the technical specs of this typically quality-ladened DreamWorks DVD.

The single disc is housed in a typical "keepcase" style box, with these side "box locks" that are becoming popular on DreamWorks titles like THE LAST CASTLE and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN; Universal's recent CASINO ANNIVERSARY EDITION had these box locks on them too, so this may not be just a "DreamWorks" thing. Thank God we get no dreaded Warner Brothers-style "snapper case" that feels like it's going to break in your fingertips with those horrible cardboard covers.


DreamWorks is one studio that has been cranking out beautiful-looking DVD transfers as well as room-rattling DVD soundtracks to accompany those images with DTS mixes that best some of the highest contenders in the market. THE LAST CASTLE seems to be no different, and I really did not detect any flaws in this print; no grain to speak of, and aside from being a bit on the soft side color-wise (which may have been intentional on director Rod Lurie's behalf) THE LAST CASTLE looked fine on DVD. Like I said, no grain, no shimmering, no artifacting, no haloing around images and characters ---- none that I could detect anyway. The 2:40:1 transfer filled by 55" 16X9 screen accurately, leaving small letterboxing to the top and bottom of the image. Good job by DreamWorks.


Since owning THE LAST CASTLE on DVD, I never ran its Dolby 5.1 mix, because the DTS mix was so convincing, I couldnt see how the Dolby would "improve" the delivery in any way; in fact, I figured it could only detract from this lively soundscape. This is a pretty aggressive DTS mix for a film of this caliber --- from the moment you start the feature, the soundstage wraps around you, and as the prisoners are released into the yard in the opening scene, deep, wall-rattling LFE will rock your system from the rap score blaring from someone's boom box somewhere in the scene. As the film goes on, the DTS mix shines in other ways, as yells and cries from prisoners in their cells fill the surround channels, and towards the end, when bullets start flying and helicopters begin blowing up, your system gets a workout, too, as those bullet fly-bys ping through each surround channel and will have you ducking thinking the bullets are coming after YOU. My surround channels are up in a high vaulted ceiling, so the effect is not as shocking compared to if your surrounds are nearly ear-level, but this is a top notch DTS mix from DreamWorks; "highly atmospheric" is the best term to describe the mix on a whole.

One thing I did want to mention regarding the DTS track on THE LAST CASTLE is that, as I have been finding on just so many titles released today unfortunately (and from the past as well), the dialogue track seems to be considerably lower as compared to the rest of the mix, requiring a little playing with your remote through the entire length of the feature; while this can become bothersome, try and strike a balance between dialogue and effects on your processor's volume, and you'll be reasonable happy. But there is a bit of a difference between the effects and score track and the dialogue stem on this mix; some dialogue sequences get downright quiet. But this, as I said, has been happening a lot on most DVD releases I review and analyze; and my system IS calibrated so that the center channel is three decibels higher than the other channels to compensate for such possible problems. A lot of the time, I get confirmation from editorial staff members I am friends with over at publications such as Home Theater Magazine and DVD ETC (both of which I have freelance written for recently regarding DVD reviews) that indeed the dialogue tracks on many modern releases are quite low and "hushed" compared to the rest of the soundtrack's mix, whether this be Dolby Digital (which seems to be worse) or DTS.

Also, something else I wanted to mention during my analysis of this DTS mix.....there is a scene a little past halfway of the film where Gandolfini is reading the charges against Redford's character to the inmates while they are locked up in their cells, and his (Gandolfini's) voice gets garbled and low; it is only for a moment or so as he speaks one sentence, but the audio dropout is definitely there and it is not due to equipment failure or anything like that because I have played this scene through other systems and the same thing happens; this was most likely some kind of authoring or mastering mishap while this DTS track was being synced for the disc, but it is only for a moment or so. Dialogue clarity seems to return to normal after this brief scene.

SPECIAL FEATURES on the disc included:

-Deleted Scenes with Director Commentary
-HBO Special: Inside the Castle Walls
-Feature Director Commentary
-Theatrical Trailer
-Production Notes
-Cast and Filmmaker Notes

06-30-2005, 03:19 AM
Where have you been and what have you been doing? It's been a while since you posted a review, hasn't it?

06-30-2005, 06:36 AM
Where have you been and what have you been doing? It's been a while since you posted a review, hasn't it?

Hello Dean,

Yes, it has been awhile, and I hope to be doing much more professionally-crafted, more polished reviews like this one above for you guys and gals to enjoy in the future. Thank you for reading and responding in kind; as for where I have been, well, it has been a bit of a turmoil-packed couple of years for me. Was in a serious relationship that may have been leading to an engagement, but she broke up with me and I discovered (as I had my suspicions) that another man was involved. This broke my heart tremendously, and I was having a hard time dealing with it, so I recently relocated to around the Las Vegas area where my parents live (Henderson, Nevada, actually) from New York to attempt to "start over" and I have been here trying to do just that. I am still writing DVD reviews for Home Theater and DVD ETC magazines occasionally, and now would like to add these more polished, in-depth ones for you guys on a more serious level.

The equipment list you see in my signature is a system I am running from my family's home here, which I calibrated and set up, and thats the system I'll be basing my reviews on. It is a "temporary" setup until I can unpack my own home theater which is in storage right now until I get my own place out here in Nevada, although most of the gear is the same --- Onkyo receiver, Polk speakers, Panasonic DVD player, etc. That is why, also, in the signature, it says "In Ceiling Surrounds Unidentified" because this house my parents bought out here had a surround system in this MASSIVE media room pre-wired already with surround speakers up in the nine foot cathedral ceilings, and I have not been able to identify what brand or type they are, as they are way up there in the ceiling behind mesh grilles, so the only part of the system I CAN identify is the front soundstage. I appreciate your reply, and hope to get back into some good graces with you and other friends in here as I re-establish myself as the site's "unofficial" DVD reviewer! I hope you at least enjoyed reading the review, even if you have already seen the film, and please let me know if there is anything you suggest to make the reviews more informative or if you have any suggestions for me, etc. If you do not feel these reviews belong in the FAVORITE FILMS forum, please tell me where I should re-direct them.

Thanks again, and thank you for taking the time to inquire as to where I have been and such!