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The Last Castle

Original theatrical poster
Directed by Rod Lurie
Produced by Robert Lawrence
Don Zepfel
Written by David Scarpa
Graham Yost
Starring Robert Redford
James Gandolfini
Mark Ruffalo
Steve Burton
Delroy Lindo
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Tom Waits
Cinematography Shelly Johnson
Editing by Michael Jablow
Kevin Stitt
Distributed by DreamWorks SKG
Release date(s) North America:
October 19, 2001
November 22, 2001
United Kingdom:
January 4, 2002
Running time 132 mins
Country United States
Language English
Budget $72 million[1]
Gross revenue $27,642,707[1]

The Last Castle is a 2001 drama film directed by Rod Lurie, starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini.

The film portrays a struggle between inmates and the warden of a military prison. Eugene Irwin, a highly decorated U.S. Army General sentenced for insubordination, challenges the warden, Colonel Winter, over his treatment of the prisoners. After mobilizing the inmates, Irwin leads an uprising aiming to seize control of the prison and remove Winter from command.

The film was released on October 19, 2001, in the United States, grossing about $28 million worldwide. The low gross of the film in comparison to its high production and marketing expenses led some to call it a box office bomb.[2][2]

The Last Castle won the Taurus World Stunt Award for best fire stunt and was nominated for best aerial work and best stunt coordination sequence.[3] Clifton Collins, Jr. was nominated for an ALMA Award in the "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture" category.[4]



Lieutenant General Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) is brought to a maximum security military prison to begin a ten-year incarceration for his decision (in violation of a presidential order) to send U.S. troops to Burundi, Africa, resulting in the death of eight soldiers. Colonel Winter, the prison's warden, is a great admirer of the General's but is offended by a comment by Irwin that he overhears. He quickly resents what he perceives as Irwin's attempt to change the attitude of the prisoners. On one occasion, Irwin is punished harshly after stopping a guard from clubbing a prisoner, Ramon Aguilar, who had made the mistake of saluting Irwin in the prison yard. Continuing to observe acts of cruelty, Irwin attempts to unify the prisoners by building a "castle wall" of stone and mortar at the facility, which in many ways resembles a medieval castle. Envying the respect Irwin is clearly receiving, Winter orders his guards to destroy the wall. Aguilar, directly involved in the building of the wall, takes a stand before the bulldozer. Winter orders a sharpshooter to fire a normally non-lethal rubber bullet directly at Aguilar's head, killing him. After the wall is destroyed, Irwin and the inmates pay final respects to Aguilar in formation. Winter later tries to make amends with Irwin, but Irwin calls him a disgrace to the uniform and demands his resignation.

The prisoners begin to behave like soldiers around Irwin, using code words and gestures, infuriating the warden. Winter reaches out to an anti-social prisoner named Yates, bribing him to inform about Irwin's plans in exchange for a reduced sentence. Irwin organizes a plot to throw the prison into chaos. His intent is to show a friend, Brigadier General Wheeler (the warden's superior officer), that the warden is unfit and should be removed from command under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. During a visit by General Wheeler to the prison, Winter receives a letter threatening the kidnapping of Wheeler by the prisoners. After ordering his men into action, Winter discovers that the kidnap scheme was a fake. Irwin orchestrated it as a way to detect how prison guards would react during an actual uprising. Yates becomes the key to their plan, tasked with stealing a U.S. flag from the warden's office and seizing a Bell UH-1 helicopter used by guards.

The inmate revolt begins. Using improvised weapons (some resembling medieval ones) and the tactics of a military unit, the prisoners capture an armored vehicle and the helicopter. The prisoners place a call to Wheeler's headquarters and inform him of the riot. Winter has little time to regain control before Wheeler can arrive to see the prison under siege. He orders the use of live ammunition against the prisoners. He also knows from Yates that the ultimate goal of Irwin is to raise the American flag upside down, a classic signal of distress. Irwin's men create havoc but ultimately are outnumbered. He orders them to stand down. But with guns pointed at him from all direction, Irwin elects to personally hoist the flag. Winter orders his men to shoot. They refuse to do so on the orders of Winter's second-in-command, Captain Peretz. The colonel cannot persuade anyone else to follow his command, so he proceeds to fatally shoot Irwin himself. Peretz places the warden under arrest. The prisoners salute the flag and Winter now sees that Irwin has actually raised the U.S. flag in the correct manner. It waves above the prison's walls as Winter is led away in handcuffs. The story ends with the inmates building a new wall as memorial to their fallen comrades. Aguilar's and Irwin's names are among those carved onto the castle wall.


Robin Wright Penn makes an uncredited appearance as Rosalie Irwin, the General's daughter.


The castle-like appearance of the former Tennessee State Prison

The film was shot mainly at the 103-year-old former Tennessee State Prison in Davidson County, Tennessee, which had previously been used for filming in The Green Mile and Last Dance, and was chosen because of its Gothic and castle-like appearance. The state of Tennessee offered to provide the location rent-free, with exemption from the state's 6 percent state sales tax.[5] James Gandolfini earned $5 million for co-starring in the movie after finishing the third season of The Sopranos in March 2001.[6]

A crew of 150 worked on refurbishing existing buildings and constructing new buildings in a time limit of nine weeks. A wall 61 metres (200 ft) long and 6 metres (20 ft) high was built, serving as the prison's entrance. A metal walkway and two towers were also built as vantage points for the guards. The movie required an office with a large window through which the warden could watch the inmates; this was constructed by the production crew. Director Rod Lurie insisted on having the prisoners' cells face each other, but this is not that case at the Tennessee State Prison. To solve the problem, production designer Kirk Petruccelli created cells in a warehouse near the prison.[7]


To show the balance of power, the film crew used multiple cinematography techniques involving different displays of color, lighting, camera and costumes. In the warden's office intense color was used to reflect freedom or power, in contrast to the washed-out colors from the less powerful yard. The contrasts shift as the story progresses, showing the increasing power of the prisoners. The American flag in the yard is described by Petruccelli as "the heart of The Castle" and is the only exemption to the washed-out color palette.[7]

Cinematographer Shelly Johnson, in collaboration with Rod Lurie and the design team, also used lighting and camerawork to signify the shifting of powers. For example, the yard is at first naturally lit and more influenced by daylight, in contrast to Winter's office, which is artificially illuminated by lamps. As the film progresses, the office is more fully infiltrated by exterior light through a broken window. The shift of power is also emphasized through camera techniques. Hand-held cameras were used when filming in the yard to make the audience feel as if they were "participants in the action". However, a very precise, sterile camera composition was used in the warden's office. The prisoners' world gets more precise during the film, while the colonel's world is filmed more loosely.[7]

Costume designer Ha Nguyen also demonstrates this contrast in the clothing of the cast. The film starts with the prisoners having their clothing divided by ethnicity, with African Americans wearing different headwear, Latinos wearing vests and various arm accessories, and the White Americans in cut-off t-shirts. After the arrival of General Irwin, the prisoners start wearing more similar clothing in a "sharp military manner". The uniforms of the prisoners change from the usual chocolate brown color to light grey, because of its muddled look on film and excessive darkness in some scenes. Ha Nguyen also contrasted the non-battlefield ribbons found on Colonel Winter's uniform with the battlefield medals found on General Irwin's uniform (seen only in the opening scene as Irwin is inducted into the prison).[7]

The wall created by the prisoners in the middle of the yard also represents change and incarnation. What is at first a "discombobulated mess" representing the lack of unity among prisoners later becomes a perfect wall, a "powerful symbol of the results of [Irwin's] leadership".[7]


Special effects supervisor Burt Dalton and stunt coordinator Mic Rodger created the battle weapons used in the final scenes. The trebuchet, used by prisoners to throw rocks, was capable of throwing a 68 kilograms (150 lb) rock a distance of 60 metres (200 ft) with an accuracy of ten feet around the target. The water cannon had the power to shoot 76 litres (20 US gal) of water per second. Some of the cast did their own stunts, including Mark Ruffalo, who performed one scene hanging from a helicopter. Interiors of the helicopter were not created with blue screen effects; instead, a special gimbal was used to hold a full-sized Huey-A type military helicopter. The gimbal was capable of rotating the helicopter 360 degrees and vertically moving it 20 feet. The gimbal was controlled by a computer, allowing Dalton to precisely set speed and movement; this ensured precise repeatability for multiple takes.[8]

Release and reception

The original poster that was pulled out of circulation

Before the film's release, DreamWorks pulled the original movie poster from circulation, which depicted an American flag flying upside down (a standard distress call), due to concerns about public sensitivity related to the September 11 attacks.[9][10]

The film was released on October 19, 2001 in 2,262 theaters domestically, grossing $7,088,213 on its opening weekend with an average of $3,133 per theater. The release spanned 63 days (9 weeks), closing on December 20, 2001, with a total domestic gross of $18,244,060.[1] The film grossed $9,398,647 overseas, with the lowest earning in Egypt ($5,954) and the highest ($1,410,528) in Germany.[11]

The film has scored a 52% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 113 reviews. 59 of these are positive and 54 negative, with an average rating of 5.6/10 and the consensus: "The Last Castle is well acted and rousing for the most part, but the story cannot stand up to close scrutiny."[2] At Metacritic, a rating website which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 42/100, based on 32 reviews.[2]


Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle criticized the cast, describing Robert Redford as "no George C. Scott" and Gandolfini as the wrong choice to play an icy intellectual. LaSalle concluded that it was a "naive film about a great leader's capacity to inspire."[12]

Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times saw it as "a dramatic, involving story" but criticized its "loopholes and lapses." Ebert noted that Irwin is no less evil than Winter and that they both "delight in manipulating those they can control." He pointed out that the film fails to portray how the prisoners manufacture the weapons and hide them under Winter's observation.[13]

It received 3 out of 5 stars on IGN; the review noted that though a well paced and well acted film, it "suffers from this overall militaristic, streamlined approach."[14]

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said the film's "pretensions lead to a slow, even stately pace, what should be crackling confrontations between Irwin and Winter end up playing more like a tea party than a Wagnerian battle of wills."[15]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a "C-plus" grade, writing: "As staged by Lurie, the drama has all the subtlety and surprise of a showdown between the sissy-bully son of Captain Queeg and a hero who's like a fusion of Brubaker, Spartacus, and Norma Rae."[16]

Variety wrote: "Much of the potential dramatic juice has been drained out of The Last Castle, a disappointingly pedestrian prison meller that falls between stools artistically and politically."[17]

Claudia Puig of USA Today criticized the writing, citing "a losing battle with an implausible script."[18]

Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times wrote: "The movie is exuberant, strapping and obvious—a problem drama suffering from a steroid overdose."[19]


  1. ^ a b c "The last Castle". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-01-07.  
  2. ^ a b c d "The Last Castle". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved 2009-01-07.  
  3. ^ "Nominees/ Winners 2002 Taurus World Stunt Awards". Taurus World Stunt Awards. 2002. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  4. ^ "Nominees for 2002 ALMA Awards". United Press International. 2002-04-17. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  5. ^ "The Castle Can Be Found in Tennessee". IGN. 2001-01-11. Retrieved 2009-01-07.  
  6. ^ "Yonda Lies The Castle of Tony Soprano". IGN. 2001-01-08. Retrieved 2009-01-07.  
  7. ^ a b c d e "Castle Walls". Behind the Scenes. DreamWorks. Retrieved 2009-01-08.  
  8. ^ "The Castle Breach". Behind the Scenes. DreamWorks. Retrieved 2009-01-25.  
  9. ^ Vercammen, Paul (2001-09-26). "Fall movies undergo changes". CNN. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  10. ^ "Hollywood Lights Dim After Attack". Fox News. 2001-09-11.,2933,34295,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  11. ^ "The Last Castle: Foreign Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  12. ^ LaSalle, Mick (2001-10-19). "Complex 'Castle' a morality tale". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (2001-10-19). "The Last Castle". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  14. ^ D., Spence (2001-10-19). "Review of The Last Castle". IGN. Retrieved 2009-01-07.  
  15. ^ Turan, Kenneth (2001-10-19). "'The Last Castle' Flies the Flag". Los Angeles Times.,0,6376491.story. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  16. ^ Gleiberman, Owen. "The Last Castle". Entertainment Weekly.,,180128~1~0~lastcastle,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  17. ^ Mccarthy, Todd (2001-10-19). "The Last Castle". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  
  18. ^ Puig, Claudia (2001-10-18). "Redford cannot protect 'Last Castle'". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-03-10.  
  19. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (2001-10-19). "Manning the Ramparts for Old Glory". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-09.  

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