10 October 2004 | bob the moo
None of it really amounts to much but it is watchable if not totally worthy of the heavyweights involved
Stripped of his rank and sentenced to 10 years in a military prison, Lt. General Irwin's reputation is still very much alive, to the point that the jail's commander has a certain degree of respect for him. Regardless of this though, Irwin must not abide by Winter's rules and become just another of the men. Looking to just serve out his time and go home, Irwin tries to accept his new surroundings, but he finds that the men look to him with a respect that he wishes would go away. However as he becomes familiar with the practises within the prison, he cannot help but assume a leadership role bringing him into direct confrontation with Winter over the brutal, domineering methods he uses.
Despite being a total box office flop, I was still sufficiently attracted by Lurie and the cast he had put together to give this film a chance (albeit on DVD rather than in the cinema). The film is a mix of two types of film and it manages to do neither of them that well, but well enough to produce an enjoyable if forgettable film. The first half of the film is a sort of drama, with Irwin teaching the men the respect and humanity that (supposedly) they once had as soldiers. This half is OK mainly because the fatherly Redford makes his character work pretty well at this stuff it isn't brilliant but it is OK to watch. The second half sees the film become increasingly illogical as the contest between Irwin and Winter intensifies up to the point where a slightly silly final action sequence. I won't say enough to spoil it for anybody, but the final sequence of events grows more and more unlikely by each passing event. Happily it is also quite exciting for what it is and the temptation to scoff at it is delayed (slightly) by the distraction value of it. It is not a great story by any means but it is workable and the director and cast are just about good enough to make the weak into the watchable, the empty into the entertaining.
Ex-Empire critic Lurie will always interest me because he had the guts to do what few critics could stop analysing others and make something themselves. His direction is good and he handles the action sequences well (their weaknesses being in their writing, not in his delivery). The cast are talented and do their best with a script that is not as good as their talent deserved. Redford has an easy task playing an elder statesman, full of charisma and high principles. He does this well as one would expect from an actor if his caliber. Gandolfini plays back his accent in an attempt to keep his character away from his 'Sopranoisms' but the script doesn't help him. Gadolfini plays a 'little man', one whom we half feel sorry for and half we dislike; he does well to keep both these sides out, but at the end of the film the script is only really interesting in making him a controlling monster and his performance doesn't really matter one way or the other. The support cast has quite a few well-known faces, most of who are pretty good. Lindo is more of an add-on but the ever-reliable Ruffalo who shows here why he now has the reputation of a solid support man.
Collins has a simple, stuttering character but it is still nice to see him in something other than a gangbanger role. The rest of the support are good enough, even if they don't have a great deal to do.
Overall this is an average film that seems to aspire to a higher level at one point and then just settle for action and explosions at later stages. None of it really amounts to much but the first half is enjoyable as a fairly clichéd drama and the second half is quite enjoyable even if it is silly and overblown. I can understand why it didn't really do much at the box office but as a DVD it works well enough to pass a few hours even if it never really does much more than go through the motions.