22 October 2001 | The Dread Pirate Roberts-2
Filled with both strengths and weaknesses
Most of the raves and pans you will read of this movie are equally true in their own respects. For my money, the film's weaknesses slightly outweigh its strengths but I can easily see someone else's scales tipping the other way.
The performances are splendid all around. Most especially, James Gandolfini (who had the inside track with the most richly drawn character) excels as the ambiguous villain who is actually right more than half the time.
The message which deals with the value of pride and the importance of identity and self-worth is certainly admirable. The fact that this occurs among men who have marred their own self-worth through violent crime makes the concept that much more interesting. It almost (but never quite) raises the idea of reclaiming integrity, once lost. If it had gone this extra mile, it may well have been a better film.
The weaknesses lie in the hundreds of stupid little inaccuracies which culminate into one stupid BIG inaccuracy: This place doesn't feel like a prison!
It is difficult to make a prison movie within ten years of 1994 without inviting comparisons to "The Shawshank Redemption." Rather than belaboring the obvious, I want to note one detail that is exemplary of the earlier film's superiority. Even the jolliest, funniest, most easy going prisoners in Shawshank had an underlying sense of danger about them. You didn't want to get on their bad side. You never doubt that they belong in prison (except, of course, for Andy Dufresne). But this is not so in "The Last Castle." No matter how often someone reads from a prisoner's file and discusses the horrible things he has done, none of the words, actions, or other moods conveyed by the men in this film make them seem in any way dangerous. Maybe it's a case of mass miscasting but I doubt it.
Compounding this problem is the lack of scholarship to be found in the little details. Robert Redford shaves with a safety razor in spite of the fact that no prisoner would be allowed such a tool. Razor blades, like belts and shoelaces, are potential suicide tools and, thus, prohibited in prisons. Also, people keep referring to an officer's side arm as his "gun" instead of his "weapon." These mistakes were easy to avoid and yet they remained in the film.
All of this makes a potentially fascinating film, filled with talent, seem a touch removed from reality. Like in "The Contender," director Rod Lurie has shown that his view of reality is based on his opinions rather than the other way around.
With all it had going for it, it's a shame really.