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


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09-15-2005, 11:46 AM
-Rogert Ebert, Ebert & Roper

You know something? After another member on a site of which I am senior disc reviewer for had mentioned this title in a "Another Study on DVD Organization" thread, I simply had to take this off the shelf just last night and re-review it because it's just one of those titles that seem to play back so much better at home than it did in the theater.....I can remember walking out of the theater after seeing this when it debuted completely not impressed, what with James Gandolfini's horrendous attempts to hide his Tony Soprano character beneath the one he was supposed to be playing here along with the awful lisp he has throughout the film. But, like so many other titles, after repeat viewings on cable and once purchasing the DVD for a bargain basement price in a Target store about a year or so ago (of which DreamWorks has yet again delivered a stellar DTS-on-board presentation), Rod Lurie's The Last Castle simply grew on me to the point that it's one of the most-spun discs in my collection right now.

The film (with a bit of a lengthy running time at 2 hours and 13 minutes) centers on a military prison, of which Gandolfini is in command of. There is something corrupt going on here, but we're not made aware of that until the arrival of three-star General Eugene R. Irwin (Robert Redford), who has been sent to "The Castle" as it is known after a court martial trial. It seems Irwin disregarded reliable intelligence on the battlefield and some of his men were killed as a result; his punishment is to be sent to Gandolfini's prison. Redford's arrival keeps everyone at the prison on their toes, as he is a well-known and well-respected General who even wrote a book titled The Burden of Command. Upon his arrival, prison bookie Yates (Mark Ruffalo) is already taking bets on whether or not Irwin is going to kill himself within a certain amount of time in this prison. Redford's initial meeting with Gandolfini seems to be one laced with respect, as Gandolfini has admired Redford's character for some time, his victories well known on the battlefields.

But as the film progresses, Redford, while simply wanting to "do his time and go home," begins to hear tales from other inmates about what goes on at this prison -- that if a prisoner gets on Gandolfini's "bad side," they get shot with rubber bullets to the back of the head, which has been causing deaths amongst the prison population and which cannot be proven. Immediately, the other inmates take to him, looking up to him as a former General in the Army, and the more Redford is witness to Gandolfini's demoralizing intentions towards the prisoners, the more something is beginning to stew.

Redford, after being witness to the murder of a stuttering prisoner he had befriended, begins to get his command instincts back once again, and has his sights set on bringing Gandolfini down. Once again, a war is to be fought on a battlefield for General Irwin -- but this time, it's in a prison yard. Little by little, Redford re-vitalizes the men who were once soldiers, bringing respect back to their uniforms even though they are convicted prisoners. Immediately, the men begin referring to each other by rank nicknames and begin saluting Irwin in a different kind of way (since rank and saluting is prohibited between the prisoners) which pisses Gandolfini off to no end. A battle of wits is beginning to form here, where there can only be one king of a castle. Lurie builds the tension between these two men -- and the tension between the inmates and Gandolfini -- nicely although the film takes a somewhat slow crawl in certain places, such as when Redford's daughter who he hasn't seen in years pays him a visit at the prison.

At one point in the film, Gandolfini confronts Redford in his cell and tells him that he will accept these fake "salutes" and rank calling by the men; but Redford informs Gandolfini that it is "too late" and that the men simply want his resignation and so does he. Gandolfini, being alarmed by this "threat," calls upon General Wheeler (Delroy Lindo) who is a personal friend of Irwin's and who comes to the prison to talk to him. Redford tells Lindo about the deaths that have been occurring in the prison at the hands of Gandolfini, but in the middle of this meeting Redford attempts a bluff -- he sends a letter to Gandolfini's office saying that if he does not surrender General Wheeler will be taken hostage. Immediately, guards close in and separate Wheeler from Redford, but the whole thing was a test to see how Gandolfini's guards would respond. Lindo threatens Gandolfini that he is "through" at this prison if he hears another story about someone dying under his command there.

There is another subplot that develops here, with Mark Ruffalo, an ex Apache helicopter pilot who his now the prison bookie, knowing Redford through his father; it seems Redford and Ruffalo's father were in a POW camp together but Ruffalo doesn't seem to respect Redford and doesn’t want any part of what Redford plans on doing in the prison -- that is, uprising against Gandolfini. Gandolfini uses this as a way to make Ruffalo his snitch in the prison to find out what exactly Redford is planning to do. Their plan? Neutralize Gandolfini's men, control the rifle towers, control the water cannon and ultimately seize the flag, which they want to fly upside down meaning the "castle has fallen -- send help."

But the waiting this film makes you sit through pays off in the end, as Redford and his new "army" of prisoners-turned-soldiers prepare an all-out assault on Gandolfini's men, testing their response limits and hatch a plan to take over the prison. For those of you who have never seen The Last Castle I am not going to tell you how this is done or what happens at the end; but one thing I could never understand about prison riots is this: what do the inmates think they are going to accomplish at the end? They are not going to be able to get beyond the walls without being fatally wounded.....so what do they expect from rioting? There is never any way they can win, really; this was proven in Attica.

At any rate, the acting? Redford does a good job here with the material he was given by the writers -- of note are his "double takes" his character does throughout the film, which sort of "makes" the General Irwin character. Gandolfini, on the other hand, has a hard time masking this aforementioned Tony Soprano bad buy image to play a warden of a military prison; his also aforementioned lisp gets annoying after awhile as well. But the way Lurie builds the final confrontation between these two men who simply wont back down from one another -- as Redford attempts to take over the prison and Gandolfini does everything in his power to stop him -- is pretty fascinating and entertaining.

The Last Castle comes in a simple keepcase box with these "side locks" that are now coming on some of the DreamWorks DVD releases; Saving Private Ryan DTS had these locks, too, and I don't see the point of them, but okay.


This was a hard one to analyze; there's really nothing much to say about this transfer. At times, it seems like the colors and quality of the image COULD have been slightly better defined, then there are some scenes which become exceptionally head-snappingly razor sharp; in sum, a rather average to above average DVD transfer here from DreamWorks with nothing to really applaud yet nothing to complain about either. Honest.
Letterboxing was present at the 2:40:1 ratio. Animated menus with background score was a nice touch.


Another rather dazzling DTS mix from DreamWorks -- a studio I have CONTINUALLY applauded at press events and during reviews for their constant, unwavering support for the DTS format on their titles. Let's see.....in their arsenal are awe-inspiring DTS tracks on Gladiator, The Haunting and Saving Private Ryan -- some of the best audio mixes your ears will ever be treated to in home theater. Here, we have a 5.1 mix that is more atmospheric than bombarding and bodacious, but that's okay -- because the film calls for such a mix and yet it does indeed heat up and get aggressive when need be. Every channel is utilized on this mix to offer a sense of environment -- from the opening scene as the prisoners are entering the yard and the thumping LFE from a rap music beat shakes your walls, you'll get a sense of PRESENCE and heft on this DTS track. The surrounds are used extremely intelligently and appropriately, providing support for the cries and yells of men in their prison cells, score, and in the end yard shootout sequence, bullet fire that hits the rear channels in an INCREDIBLY real fashion. Helicopters hover, towers explode with nice LFE, sounds roar constantly from the surrounds --- overall, a very nice, balanced DTS mix from DreamWorks.

The ONE thing I had to complain about -- and this was confirmed playing the disc back COUNTLESS times since owning it not only on my system but other systems as well -- was something I usually ***** about on Dolby Digital presentations. For some reason, the dialogue on this DTS mix was recorded simply way too low in comparison to when the action hits the screen -- it is annoyingly apparent; as soon as there is some kind of character interaction onscreen and then the scene jumps to one filled with soldiers or prisoners yelling or uprising, the audio jumps to a higher decibel level -- one much higher than the dialogue was recorded at. It was a definite and apparent problem on the mix.

Special Features included:

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

For me, I simply HAD to have Rod Lurie's The Last Castle in my personal vaults -- but I can honestly recommend this for a rental if you haven't already seen it, or, as with Joy Ride, find it for the six or seven bucks I did and buy it. You can't go wrong.

09-18-2005, 10:37 PM
Something I wanted to add with regard to the audio portion of The Last Castle review: there were moments of dialogue which got clearly distorted and somewhat "muffled" including two I can remember distinctly: a scene where Gandolfini is talking to the men who are in their cells about Redford, reading from his file.....this portion of dialogue can make you think your center channel speaker has blown it sounds so "muddled" -- but that distortion is baked onto the track because I played this disc back on other systems, and the anomoly happens at the exact same spots.......the other area is a brief moment when one of the rioting prisoners jumps on top of some guards that are manning a water cannon, and his shouting is clearly distorted -- again, this was not a problem with equipment, but rather a brief problem on the DTS track.