The Last Castle (2001)

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Released 29-Aug-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Audio Commentary-Rod Lurie (Director)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Deleted Scenes-9 +/- commentary
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 125:48
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (70:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Rod Lurie
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Robert Redford
James Gandolfini
Mark Ruffalo
Steve Burton
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Jerry Goldsmith


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Audio Commentary
Turkish
Arabic
Hungarian
Romanian
Greek
Czech
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In a nutshell, the plot of The Last Castle can probably be summarised as "Shawshank Redemption" meets "Gladiator." Certain scenes strongly reminded me of the one or the other of the two films. Obviously, the concept of a "fish out of water" incarcerated in a prison run by a brutal and insensitive warden, slowly winning over the respect of his fellow inmates is very similar to the premise in Shawshank Redemption - right down to the prisoners betting cigarettes on how long the inmate will survive, lots of long shots across the prison yard, even down to the obligatory laundry detail scene. The concept of a general who has fallen from grace that triumphs despite all odds of course reminds oneself of the main premise of Gladiator. Even the ending of the film strongly reminds me of one of those two films, but in the interest of not revealing it, I won't say which one.

    Distinguished war hero and veteran three star General Eugene R. Irwin (Robert Redford) makes a mistake late in his career and as a result is sent to a military prison for ten years. At first, the warden, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini) is in awe of him, but a careless comment by Irwin disparaging his collection of military artefacts turns the Colonel from a friend into an adversary.

   At first all Irwin wants to do is be a model prisoner, serve his time, and go home where he expects to spend some time with the remaining members of his family - a daughter and a grandson. However, events conspire against him. His daughter rejects him on a crucial prison visit, and in the meantime he soon finds out that his fellow inmates have long been suffering from the Colonel's manipulative and inhumane methods of keeping discipline.

    In a set of crucial scenes, one set of which establishes the growing respect of the other inmates for the once-general as a man born to lead, and another set building up the animosity between ex-General Irwin and Colonel Winter - we are slowly but surely led towards the inevitable - a dramatic showdown between the two men which is played like a game of chess with the prison inmates and guards as the pawns.

    I think it is to the actors' and filmmakers' credit that the film effectively achieves "suspension of disbelief" - when I was watching it I was cheering for Irwin just like the rest of the audience and was drawn into the ingenuity of the action sequences. However, in the cold bright light of day, I was far less comfortable with the premise of the storyline. In the interests of not revealing the film's ending, I'll hide all my comments from this point forward.

    (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) What I didn't like about the film was that in the end I'm not sure that Irwin's motives were entirely altruistic. Seen from another angle, his actions do not seem at all sensible or in the interests of the other inmates. Basically, apart from getting rid of Colonel Winter, the men arguably did not really benefit from what is at the end of the day a bloody, foolhardy and unnecessary (I'll talk more about this later) prison uprising. The film makes a big deal about the men regaining their self-respect and dignity as soldiers, but how long is that going to last without Irwin? And what reassurances will the men get that Winter's replacement will not be just as bad? As for Irwin himself, if he really wanted to help the other inmates get rid of Winter, there were plenty of other ways he could have gone about it - capitalising on his relationship with General Wheeler for instance - but no, he had to go all-out in a blaze of glory just because he felt he had nothing left to live for. He manipulates his men just as badly as Colonel Winter and it all seems to be an ego trip between the two men - a trip which "innocent" men had to die for.

    However, at the end of the day, I still found the film watchable, despite my misgivings. Many have characterised this as a "guy's movie" due to the absence of female characters (apart from Rosalie and a female prison officer both of which are cameo appearances). I found it enjoyable and the central themes of leadership, self-respect and justice are relevant to both sexes.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a superb and reference quality transfer in a widescreen 16x9 enhanced aspect ratio of 2.40:1, which is pretty close to the intended aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

    I was struggling to find any sign of film or compression artefact, and, apart from some very minor shimmering, there are none.

    The transfer was very strong in detail, down to the level of capturing reflections on glass and capturing textures of rocks and faces and so forth. Shadow detail is high in the many nighttime and dark scenes in the film. Likewise, colour saturation is pretty much perfect, although most of the film has a very sombre, grey and dark tone which makes the transfer somewhat greyish and bluish most of the time - however, this is clearly intended by the filmmakers. Skin tones are always very natural and realistic.

    The film source itself is spotlessly clean, with no sign of visible grain. I detected some minor instances of edge enhancement being applied, resulting in a minor halo around certain objects.

    There are a number of subtitle tracks on the film, including English and English Audio Commentary as well as a number of East European languages. I turned on both the English and the English Audio Commentary tracks and can verify that they are adequate and present. The English subtitle track also transcribes a number of auditory cues.

    This is a single sided dual layered disc (RSDL). The layer change occurs at 70:52 just as the camera closes up on James Gandolfini. Apart from the slight split-second pause, the layer change was not very distracting.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio tracks present on this disc, all in English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s), Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded (192Kb/s), and Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded (192Kb/s). The Region 1 disc also includes an English dts 5.1 audio track which unfortunately has been omitted from the Region 4 disc.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is very pleasant to listen to and probably falls just short of reference quality.

    The dialogue is full-bodied, natural sounding, and easy to understand. There are no issues with audio synchronization. Similarly, the original music score by Jerry Goldsmith is hauntingly beautiful as always and suits the mood of the film well.

    The subwoofer and rear channels are used effectively and frequently in the film. Many Foley effects, such as rain or bullets are distributed across all channels creating a very enveloping soundtrack that will bring the audience right into the film. The subwoofer makes itself felt not only in the action-oriented sequence at the end of the film but also at the beginning in reproducing the low bass notes of the music score straight after the opening titles during the ball game in the prison yard.

    The highlight of the film soundtrack is obviously the "battle" scene towards the end of the film with bullets flying across the room a la Saving Private Ryan, the sound of the helicopter blades whirring across the speakers and lots of explosions. I felt that some of the explosions sounded a little bit "hollow" and could have benefited from being just a little bit louder. I find myself wondering how much "fuller" and "substantial" the dts soundtrack would have sounded.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This disc features a very reasonable selection of extras, including a director's commentary audio track, behind the scenes featurette and deleted scenes. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that all the extras were 16x9 enhanced and in addition had reasonable video transfer quality.

Menu

    The menus are 16x9 enhanced. The main menu and scene selection menus feature background audio and animation.

Audio Commentary-Rod Lurie (Director)

    Director Rod Lurie gives a pretty much non-stop commentary on the background of the film, the soundtrack (interesting tidbit: the opening theme was composed by Jerry Goldsmith on 11 September 2001), how certain scenes were constructed, cast and crew anecdotes, trivia and so on. It was interesting to hear that Rod Lurie's own background as an officer in the Army came through in how he directed the film, even though he was not responsible for the screenplay.

    I was intrigued to find out that Brian Goodman (Beaupre) had actually spent some time in prison as an inmate. Rod is honest enough to talk about scenes that he felt he could have done better, and giving credit to his cast and crew where it's due. It was interesting to hear him defend the scene with Robin Wright Penn (Rosalie) as many critics have slammed this scene as being gratuitous and unnecessary. His explanation makes sense (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) (that Rosalie's rejection of General Irwin was the trigger that spurred Irwin to lead the other inmates into an uprising) but I don't think many people - including myself - would necessarily make the deductive inference.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes (15:03)

    This featurette, entitled "Inside The Walls Of The Last Castle," is your standard promotional documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew combined with behind the scenes shots and excerpts from the film. Interviews include:

Deleted Scenes-9 +/- commentary

    This a series of nine deleted scenes, which can be viewed with the original soundtrack or with director's commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 192 Kb/s). By the high quality of audio and video transfers (2:35:1 aspect ratio), I suspect these scenes were deleted late in the editing process:

Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

    This is presented in 2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced) with Dolby Digital 5.1 (384 Kb/s) sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    Given the presence of the dts audio track on Region 1, I would say that it wins over Region 4, although I suspect that the video transfer quality may suffer as a result.

Summary

    The Last Castle should have been a very successful film in a post 11 September 2001 environment, but somehow didn't quite make it despite a strong storyline, a good production and excellent acting. I found it very watchable despite some reservations about the plot.

    The video transfer is of reference quality.

    The audio transfer is excellent, though just short of reference quality.

    Extras are very reasonable and include a director's commentary audio track.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Monday, May 27, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Comments (Add)
Last Castle Region 1 (28/05/02) - Rhodes_96