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Who rules “The Last Castle”?

Updated: Mar 9


Robert Redford plays General Eugene Irwin who is serving a 10-year sentence for disobeying a direct command. Hes punished for stopping a guard from clubbing a prisoner, and he must move a pile of rocks in the prison yard. The prisoners cheer on Irwin as Prison Commander Colonel Ed Winter played by James Gandolfini watches from his third-floor office.

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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 2001; R for language and violence


Best extra: Director Rod Lurie’s commentary


EVERY FILMMAKER dreams of star power.


In “The Last Castle,” third-time director Rod Lurie (“Outpost,” “The Contender”) got his wish, thanks to legendary actor Robert Redford (The Sting,” “Three Days of the Condor”). As three-star General Eugene Irwin, Redford plays a much-decorated war hero sentenced to a turn-of-century military prison for disobeying a direct command. Prison commander and war memorabilia collector Col. Ed Winter, played by James Gandolfini, admires the general until he overhears him saying, “Any man who has a collection like this has never set foot on a battlefield.” The conflict between the bitter Winter and the upright Irwin won’t be settled until the climactic flag-raising ending.


(1-3) The former Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, built in 1898 became the production home for The Last Castle.” (4-7) Col. Winter and the prisoners watch the arrival of the three-star general, who looks up toward the colonels office and the gothic style architecture.



Both the Kino Lorber 4K and Blu-ray include an enlightening commentary by Lurie, a West Point graduate, who spent four years as a Combat Arms officer in the U.S. Army during the 1980s. He then became a film critic for an L.A. radio station, and later a journalist for the New York Daily News, before writing and directing his first feature film “Deterrence” (1999). At the beginning of the track, he expounds on the valuable elements you obtain from a good commentary, and how it can be better than film school for aspiring filmmakers. He also gives an endless stream of anecdotes about his leading man, and how Redford’s performance as Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men” (1976), inspired him to be a journalist.


Lurie tells how he first met Redford in London, during a short filming break from Tony Scott’s “Spy Game,” in which he co-starred with Brad Pitt. For hours they discussed the Oscar-nominated “All the President’s Men,” which Redford also produced, and kept the conversation about “The Last Castle” on the back burner. The next day they jumped to Redford’s performance in “The Candidate” (1972), and finally transitioned to “The Last Castle.” Afterward, Redford agreed to play Gen. Irwin, and would receive $11 million for the role. The director was surprised how Redford loved to read the dictionary while on the movie set and would quiz him about the meaning of the latest words he read. The star wasn’t perfect; it took him over 20 takes to salute another inmate correctly. At the time Redford was 64 years old and, Lurie said, “He’s in better shape than I’ve ever been.” During a key scene, Gen. Irwin is punished for touching a guard, and he must carry hundreds of rocks for a display wall in the prison yard. For two days Redford carried the 25-pound rocks, and his physical exertion was not acting, says Lurie.


The Blu-ray includes a recent 10-minute interview with the director, who recalls when he first got his hands on the script, originally entitled “The Castle.” “I thought it had a lot of great political and social undertones.” He also says it took some convincing to get James Gandolfini on board. At the time he was a huge TV star as New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano on the acclaimed HBO series “The Sopranos.” The “Castle” producers offered $5 million, which became the actor’s biggest motion picture paycheck, and he joined the production after wrapping up the series’ third season.

(1-3) The prison yard is nicely lit by the Director of Photography Shelley Johnson, has Col. Winter invites Irwin to his office and the two look over the yard. Capt. Peretz (Steve Burton) shows Irwin the colonel’s military collection, while Winter retrieves a book written by the general to get his autograph. (4) Irwin finally arrives at his prison cell and measures up its width. (5) Lt. Sam Yates, a West Point grad (Mark Ruffalo) greets Irwin. (6&7) The siren is set off as a warning for all prisoners to hit the deck, but prisoner Thumper (George W. Scott) who had just been in a fight is slow to hit the ground. Another prisoner yells for Thumper to get down.


The production team visited the Leavenworth Military Prison in Kansas as a possible on-location site, but they were looking for an imposing, castle-like prison. They finally settled on the former Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, where “The Green Mile” had been filmed a couple of years earlier. Most of the prison cells were empty, and without bars, so they had to refurbish a complete prison block. “But what was creepy was there were still execution rooms with electric chairs,” he said.  


(Side note: I visited the Tennessee prison in the 1980s during my Memphis newspaper days, photographing James Earl Ray, the man who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years for killing Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Ray later recanted his confession and raised a conspiracy theory behind the murder.)  


The disc also features an original HBO “First Look” featurette (2001), with interviews of Lurie and the cast, including Mark Ruffalo in one of his earlier roles, as prisoner Lt. Sam Yates, a West Point grad; Paul Calderon, as prisoner Dellwo; producer Robert Lawrence; Gandolfini; and Redford, who had never been in the military, but had numerous family members in the service. “To find myself playing a character who’s strictly committed – that’s his whole life, that’s all he’s ever known, and that’s all he’s ever wanted – that’s kind of interesting,” he says.



Paramount, which maintains the DreamWorks library of films, scanned the original 35mm camera negative (2.40:1 aspect ratio) in TRUE 4K. The results are VERY GOOD, with a nice dose of natural film grain, painted with its slightly desaturated earthy palette of grays, blues, and browns, and captured with Panavision anamorphic lens by cinematographer Shelley Johnson (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “The Wolfman”). 


During his commentary, Lurie admits he wishes he had provided more “texture shots,” such as close-ups of Col. Winter’s military collection and other objects but, overall, the imagery is solid with its varying lens selections. Encoded onto a 100 GB disc the video bitrate per second averages a controllable mid 70 Mbps range. 


Kino and Paramount provide HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading for the more desirable contrast levels, from controlled highlights to the darker shadows, while keeping the facial toning natural for the diverse cast. The enclosed Blu-ray also sourced from the new 4K master is a bump in clarity and colors over the old 2K mastered Blu-ray.  



The 4K and Blu-ray provide the 24-bit six-channel DTS HD soundtrack, which gives the right balance between the front soundstage of dialogue and music, to the effects bouncing to your side and rear speakers. Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Air Force One) provided an emotional score and composed the theme on the solemn day the U.S. was attacked on 9/11. The film premiered just five weeks later and struggled to find an audience as the U.S. and the world grappled with the changing global landscape. The production and advertising budget nearly topped $100 million, while its worldwide gross was under $30 million. 

It received mixed reviews, but the late film critic Roger Ebert said, “Redford and Gandolfini are two reasons the movie plays so well. Redford, because he does whats expected, as a calm, strong, unbreakable leader. Gandolfini, because he does what is not expected, and creates not simply a villain, but a portrait of a type that is so nuanced, so compelling, so instinctively right, that we are looking at the performance of a career.


On IMDb.coms top-rated prison films list, “The Last Castle” lands at No. 43, while Frank Darabont’s “The Shawshank Redemption” still holds the No. 1 spot; his other Stephen King adaptation,The Green Mile,” is No. 2. Redfords 1980 prison film Brubaker was No. 36.


Lurie sums up the meaning of “The Last Castle:” “What makes a leader? Is it something you were born with, or something you are handed? Gen. Irwin could do nothing but be a leader.” 


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer  

(1) Irwins estranged daughter Rosalie (Robin Wright) visits. (2) Saluting is forbidden between prisoners, but Corporal Aguilar (Clifton Collins Jr.) does it anyway and will pay for his actions. (3) Irwin struggles to lift the large rocks during the films key rallying moment. (4&5) The prisoners are fully behind Irwin and they are blasted with a water gun. (6&7) Brigadier General Wheeler (Delroy Lindo), visits the prison and sets off another battle between Irwin and Winter.

1 Comment

Midnight Watcher
Midnight Watcher
Mar 24

This is such an underrated film. Looks like I'll be getting the 4K now, thanks!

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