Military movies’ last stand

The Last Castle (Dreamworks) is not your typical war flick. In a genre largely pervaded by formulaic plots, the film presents an interesting twist. Both sides are fighting for the red, white and blue, or so they would have you believe.

Robert Redford plays the role of Eugene R. Irwin, revered United States Army general and war hero, court-martialed for disobeying executive orders. Sentenced and imprisoned in “the last castle,” an old fortress used to house convicted soldiers, Irwin meets the power-hungry warden, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini of “The Sopranos”).

Initially awed by the general’s reputation, Winter offers him a variety of perks upon arrival. But his comfortable stay is interrupted when conflict arises. Winter overhears Irwin make a relatively innocuous statement about his character and immediately develops a deep, personal hatred for the new inmate. Not only does Winter have it out for Irwin for the rest of the film, but the general soon bears witness to the cruelty and injustice inflicted upon other inmates.

Inspired by an innate sense of patriotism and integrity, Irwin leads his fellow convicts in a revolt against the military penitentiary. Forming his own platoon of prisoners, Irwin and company attempt to usurp the position of its sadistic warden, thereby ending his reign.

The Last Castle explores several of the typical binaries – good versus evil, justice versus bureaucracy, pride versus propriety and the shades of gray that lay between. Comprised of a terrific cast of actors that deliver powerful and moving performances, the film fails in one important regard: the sheer absurdity of its script and plot. It asks us to perpetually suspend our disbelief in both reality and morality.

The prison appears to be a safe environment where violence ensues only as a direct result of the warden’s deviousness. We are also asked to cheer for the poor criminals and turn our backs on the arguably innocent guards. It gives an idealized view of the friendship and loyalty formed among prison thugs.

This is a politically conscious, inspirational and motivational root-for-the-underdog type of film. If you want to leave the theater with a sense of personal victory, adrenaline pumping and heartstrings tweaked, then put The Last Castle at the top of your list this weekend. But be prepared to suspend your disbelief. The humor, sentimentality and action portrayed throughout will help carry the film.

The Last Castle is one of the few movies that will surely end in a thundering round of applause from audiences. For good reason, this film brings respect back to the military movie genre.

The Last Castle is in theatres Friday.

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