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The Last Castle

My dad’s gone insane again, and he’s decided that now that he works within 60 miles of our house and no longer has to work on Saturdays, we should rent every single movie made between 2000 and the present. So he’s started renting three movies a week, and unfortunately, the last three years were (mostly) lackluster for movies, with only a few bright spots. Also, my dad has pretty odd tastes. I have no idea where he comes up with this shit, but he brings home some really weird stuff. Fortunately, I end up liking most of it and I think my dad is somewhat less of a retard.

So this week it was I am Sam, The Last Castle, and Reign of Fire. He rented the latter because he claims my mom has this crush on Matthew McConaughey (she doesn’t), and he’s extremely jealous of this fictional crush, so he decided to rent the Battlefield Earth-esque thriller where he’s all dirty and bald and wearing animal skins and shit. We haven’t watched that one yet, or I am Sam. Yesterday afternoon, we watched The Last Castle.

It didn’t suck. I didn’t really think it would, though I had no interest in it whatsoever. It started out as sort of a routine prison movie. The big difference was that—ooh!—it’s a military prison, not a normal prison. That means instead of corrupt prison guards, you have corrupt military officials. And instead of having homosex gang-banging prisoners, you have thuggish guys who are still pretty smart and general respectful of one another. It’s kind of an interesting twist, but it didn’t really seem like it’d go anywhere.

But Robert Redford shows up to the prison. He’s a lieutenant-general that disobeyed an executive order and ended up getting a bunch of people killed. Everybody in the prison respects him. The warden-like colonel guy, played by James Gandolfini, respects him, too, at first. But then he hears Redford insulting his prized collection of military antiques and shit. He says something to the effect of, “This is the collection of a man who has never set foot on a battlefield.” And then Gandolfini breaks out a can of hatorade and sprays that shit all over Redford.

But it’s cool the way it worked out. It builds to this huge revolt, but it’s not some cheesy, shitty thing. It’s all about the battle of wits. You see Redford constantly sizing up the prison, the soldier guards, and Gandolfini, trying to figure him out. There are chess metaphors that work without beating the viewer of the head. And there is a well-defined cross-section of prisoners struggling against the (pretty much) corrupt Gandolfini, who stands in front of a huge picture window in his office, watching the prisoners in the yard, manipulating them into fighting with one another.

That’s what the whole thing is about. Manipulation. Gandolfini manipulates the prisoners to turn them against one another, to fear him and the guards. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s not very good at it. They all know better, they know what he’s doing, and they want him the hell out. That’s where Redford comes in. He actually knows how to manipulate the prisoners into doing exactly what he wants; of course, it helps that it’s also what they want. They don’t want to escape. They don’t want weird benefits. They just want to serve their time without a tyrant overseeing the prison. They want Gandolfini out.

And of course, this all builds up to the inevitable revolt, which I won’t spoil because it’s really well done.

I really liked The Last Castle a lot, but I had a problem with its monologuey-ness. Every other scene plays like a musical comedy: three lines, one of which leads up to the big song-and-dance. The song-and-dance being, of course, the lengthy monologue that allows either Redford or Gandolfini to act and emote and feel the burn of the Method. I’m not chiding their acting ability, because they both do a great job. I’m mocking the monologues (you see the consonance there? It’s fun), because there’s just too much of it in the beginning. After the first 45 minutes, though, the monologues sort of go away. They’re done developing characters and talking chess, and the monologues (yeah, there are still a few later on) become a bit less tedious.

I think I’d like this movie a lot less if it had still been as monologue-tastic but had a sub-par cast. Like, say, Jake Busey in Redford’s role and that fat dude from The Practice who was in a bunch of Coen brothers movies in Gandolfini’s role. Redford and Gandolfini make the monstrous monologues (there’s the consonance again) less tedious than they could have been.

Rating: *** (out of 4)

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