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Film / The Last Castle

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The Last Castle is a 2001 action-drama film directed by Rod Lurie (the guy that did The Contender), starring Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, and Delroy Lindo.

Eugene Irwin (Redford), a highly decorated U.S. Army Lieutenant General, is court-martialed. He is sent to a maximum security military prison, run by iron-fisted warden Colonel Winter (Gandolfini). Should one of the prisoners piss Winter off, say by saluting a prisoner who is of a higher rank than them (which is not allowed), he subjects them to abusive treatment, such as shooting them in the head with a rubber bullet. This has resulted in the deaths of several of the prisoners. Eugene is disgusted and the other prisoners are aware of Eugene's legendary prowess and look up to him with significant reverence, so he organizes the prisoners into a makeshift army. They plan to wrest the prison from Winter's control from within so that he will be removed as warden...

The film was shot at 103-year-old former Tennessee State Prison in Nashville, the same prison The Green Mile was filmed at.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: McLaren and Niebolt both laugh when Irwin says the rules of his visitation with General Wheeler necessarily prohibit a handjob.
  • And This Is for...: The first rock launched through the Warden's window by the trebuchet has the name of a prisoner who was killed by the guards engraved on it. It lands with the side bearing the name up so that it can be read.
    • It seems that Aguilar's death was also the catalyst for Yates to join Irwin.
  • Asshole Victim: Zamorro won’t be missed considering he coldly murdered Aguliar and took absolute joy in it.
  • Batman Gambit: Irwin deliberately triggers several false alarms to learn the prison's basic procedures to handle riots, and turns those procedures against them such as threatening an impending riot, causing Winter to move the prisoners into the yard while he has his guards sweep the prison cells for weapons. This allows Irwin to lock the majority of the guards inside the cell block and the prisoners easily overpower the few remaining guards outside.
    • Irwin pulls off one final gambit before his death. Knowing that Winter is likely to shoot him should he attempt to raise the American flag upside down, Irwin instead opts to raise it the correct way up believing that Winter, in his rage, won't notice. He doesn't, and Winter shoots Irwin, but by the time he realises he just killed Irwin for no reason, it's already too late and Winter is arrested for murder.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The prisoners stage their riot and manage to successfully get Winter ousted as Warden. However, Irwin dies in the process.
  • Big Scary Black Man: Sgt. McLaren, the chief enlisted guard at the prison.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Winter’s “punishment” methods are rather extreme to say the least. Two of them both target Aguliar. First one is having him stand in the rain all night and to the middle of the afternoon the next day just for learning to salute from Irwin and the second one is having him murdered for standing defiantly against the new wall ( which the prisoners built) being destroyed.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Yates might be an uncaring asshole who cares only about himself and feels that the General’s “crusade” will only end in disaster but Winter’s pointless and cold-hearted murder of Aguilar ends up being a bridge too far even for him and he finally ends up siding with the General.
    • The designated marksmen who are ordered by Winter to open fire on the General for trying to raise the flag upside down disobeys the order due to it being an unlawful order as the General was unarmed and really wasn’t a threat.
  • Evil is Petty: Everything chain reacts from Winter overhearing Irwin badmouthing Winter's hobby to Peretz in a private conversation.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Irwin has a photo of his grandkid into his pocket. He's dead by the film's end.
  • A Father to His Men: Irwin very quickly becomes this to all the men (although he was already revered by most of them anyway). He was this to his men while they were all POW’s in Hanoi although he tells Yates who’s father served under the General and who greatly revered him until his death that he didn’t do anything motivating as he mentions he was the one who actually broke first during torture and prayed for death every night but the only thing that kept him going was the men and their will and determination to stay alive.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Winter. He isn't fooling anybody.
  • Foreshadowing: Dr. Lee Bernard mentions that a rubber bullet to the head can kill someone. This is what happens to Aguilar.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Most of the Prisoners view Yates as an annoyance and he doesn’t help the situation due to his seemingly uncaring and ratty attitude.
    • Also considering he ratted out his unit to get a reduced sentence for a drug smuggling ring he ran while the others got long sentences? No wonder why he’s unpopular as snitching is consider a major no-no in Prison.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Yates finally ends up putting his selfishness to the side to help the General and the men to take down Winter.
  • Hellish Copter: The prisoners' Huey crashes after its wing rams one of the guard towers.
  • Hellhole Prison: The castle was this under the former Warden as Winter mentions that in his final two years at the castle, he had seven escape attempts and 12 attacks on officers and NCO’s with one of them being killed.
    • While Winter cleaned it up significantly he still is not above making the prisoners lives a living hell or murdering them if they get on his bad side.
  • Honor Before Reason: Irwin takes a 10 year prison over a quiet-forced retirement due to his guilt over the deaths of his men.
    • Yates siding with Irwin and the rest of the prisoners and rejecting Winter’s bribe of early release.
  • Jerkass:
    • Winter, to a tee.
    • Beaupre, who later evolves into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold when he starts to respect Irwin.
    • Zamorro seems to be this among the guards. He followed Winters' instructions to kill Aguilar without hesitation, even singing while aiming at him.
  • Karmic Death: The sniper responsible for killing Aguilar ends up being the only prison guard to be killed in the prison riot.
  • The Last Title: The title.
  • MacGyvering: Making riot shields out of cafeteria trays, slingshots with rubber hoses, Molotov Cocktails with plastic bottles and moonshine, a grappling hook from a water cannon, a makeshift trebuchet, and a bazooka out of an old metal pipe and an oxygen tank.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Winter's reaction after shooting Irwin at the climax.
  • The Neidermeyer: Winter, stated by Irwin to Peretz. As far as he's concerned, no actual battlefield veteran would ever have a much-prized military artifacts collection, a comment Winter feels personally insulted by. Zamorro, one of the military guards, is considered to be this too. Also, it's possible that Beaupre was this if his initial boorish attitude is taken to consideration that led to his imprisonment.
  • Nerd Hoard: Colonel Winter keeps a collection of military artifacts that he's quite proud of. Recently imprisoned Lt. General Irwin derides it as something no military man who'd seen combat would take pride in, leading to escalating friction between the two soldiers.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: Winter tries to justify his actions and methods to the General by mentioning that under the former warden in his last two years that there was 12 attacks on officers and NCO’s with one being killed and that there was seven escape attempts and since he took over none of the two has happened and that he has to be firm due to the fact that the prisoners vastly outnumber the Colonel and his men but the General sees through it. By the end it's shown that Winter is full of crap and just trying to rule the prison with any justification possible.
  • Oh, Crap!: Winter's face changes back and forth from this to a smug smirk through the last act.
    • There's also a wonderful one on the face of the guard operating the water cannon when the inmates shut off the water.
  • Plot Hole: The prisoners being able to manufacture the weapons and hide them under Winter's observation, including a 20-foot tall trebuchet.
  • Prison Riot: One is organized in the climax.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Captain Peretz, Winter's second in command is technically an example. Although he does try to be fair and consistent in dealing with the prisoners he does look the other way at the corruption of his boss. He finally has enough of it by the end of the movie. It's enough to make one wonder if one of the guards who was hurt or killed under the previous warden was a friend of his.
  • Red Herring Mole: Yates. Winter offers to lower his sentence from three years to three months, in exchange for details on Irwin's plan. At first, Yates seems to accept, telling the warden about Irwin's plan to take over the prison and raise the flag upside down, as well as the fact that it's already been stolen. When Winter asks who stole it, Yates reveals that he was the one who did it, revealing who's side he's really on.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Irwin gives a BRUTAL one to Winter, and he doesn't even raise his voice.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Irwin.
  • Semper Fi: Subverted with Aguilar.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: Averted with the shotguns used by the guards, Zamorro is able to inflict a precise and deadly headwound on Aguilar from a considerable distance from up in his tower.
  • Show, Don't Tell: One of the main criticisms against the movie. See Plot Hole.
  • Smug Snake: Winter acts like he is one, but throughout the film, Irwin plays Winter like a fiddle, correctly predicting his moves and refusing to be intimidated by him.
  • Storming the Castle: A subversion. They're storming it from the inside.
  • Strange Salute: Since the prisoners have all been court-martialed and discharged, they are no longer serving members in any branch of the United States military and, as such, saluting one another is forbidden. The prisoners pay respect to each other by holding their hands up near their temple and then brushing the hand back through their hair to differentiate it from a proper military salute. They also devise alternate forms of address, based on common forms of address like "boss," to use in place of previous ranks.
    • Averted at the end when upon seeing that a mortally-wounded Irwin has raised the U.S. flag right-side up, Yates and the prisoners snapped a proper salute to their nation's flag which they had once sworn as soldiers to defend and in honor of their fallen General.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Irwin-although it seems this was unintentional.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Col. Winter goes through this at the end, even though he had already put down Irwin's uprising. It results in Winter shooting Irwin.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Warden Winter is very much this trope. Smug, domineering, willing and able to kill prisoners if they piss him off, and developing a vendetta against Irwin as the film goes on.
  • What Are You in For?: Irwin asks the doctor why he is in prison. The doctor says he was busted for marijuana possession. Irwin points out that marijuana possession will get you discharged from the military but not normally earn you a stint in a maximum-security military prison. The doctor agrees and starts to explain, but they are interrupted and the audience never does get to hear the full story.
  • Window Pain: The trebuchet is used to put a rock with Aguilar's name on it through the warden's office window.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: It's an open secret among the military that Winter is a cold and ruthless warden, but he manages to retain his position because on paper, his record is almost flawless and there's no hard evidence of his abuses.