|The interesting psychological interplay between stars James Gandolfini and Robert Redford makes this prison thriller interesting for about fifty percent of its screen time. The other half of its time is spent covering melodramatic soldier interaction (salutes, pride, etc.) with slightly cliché characters that are in a very depressing situation. But while the circumstances the people must endure in this film are rather gloomy, the performances from the actors are really the most valuable element of the film. All the actors are very calculating in their portrayal of various military personnel, from inmates to guards.|
Though the story is probably the weakest element of the film, everything else about it is done rather well. The director of photography made the closed-in surroundings of the prison yard seem expansive yet restrictive too. In point of fact, the film might have been called “The Wall” because of how much time is spent in the walled yard, but film’s look can be most readily compared to The Shawshank Redemption as just about every scene takes place inside the prison walls. The color of the film is interesting as well, as everything outside is the grey expanse of the prison, but the inside of the "Castle," where Gandolfini’s character has his office, is draped in strong browns and blacks. It is clear a lot of thought went into the look of the film and the atmosphere those decisions add to the film are a plus.
And cinematographer Shelly Johnson should be congratulated on his ability to make such a sparse location (the prison yard) look so visually interesting. And since the interaction between the characters is not always the most intelligent, dialogue-wise, having other cinematic elements to focus upon is excellent. Perhaps it is the overabundance of sweeping camera movies and steady-cam shots. In an action film, these types of shots are common and they are frequently used because of one reason: they work well. As they do in this film. Making such a harsh place beautiful to look at is a testament to Johnson’s ability.
One of the most impressive elements of Castle is its stunning cinematography and beautiful score. With a track that was composed with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in mind, Jerry Goldsmith has created a better than average score to what amounts to a mostly average film. As is common in large action productions, the score is many times worth owning on its own, no matter the visual accompaniment that comes with it at the theater and the score to this film is no exception. Of course veteran composer Goldsmith’s scores are routinely worth “owning on their own,” so the fact that this film’s music is superior is not that much of a surprise.
It’s too bad that the marketing for this film has collided with the aftershocks of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, because the film’s advertising of an upside-down flag. The story really is an inspirational on if it is not analyzed too harshly (it does sometimes resemble just another customary film about soldiers not on the battlefield). One of the smarter things about the film’s story is its ending. I can’t reveal too much of it without dropping a big spoiler into this review, but suffice it to say that it is oddly satisfying and allows some of the lesser dialogue exchanges in the middle of the film to be forgiven of their faults.
Overall, The Last Castle is a mildly better-than-average film about the United States military, and it is made so because of impressive performances by its lead stars and well done elements such as cinematography, music, and art direction. What brings the picture down though is its dialogue. The story’s simplicity notwithstanding, the dialogue sometimes sounded as if it wasn’t thoroughly analyzed before it was put into character’s mouths.
Though few motion pictures can get every element right, dialogue is quite an important building block in a screenplay, and the lack of intelligent discourse is enough to make the film a lesser experience. Although the film could be considered an "action" film because of a few pyrotechnics, the amount of time this picture spends on character would have been more impressive if the characters had had more interesting things to say.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.