The Last Castle
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
are the odds that you could see three Hollywood movies in a row and find
something good to say about each of them. In my experience, not high. This
weekend, after returning from upstate New York and not having seen even
one movie in the last three weeks, I rushed to the theatres to get my fix.
In rapid succession I saw "The Last Castle", "K-Pax", and "From Hell".
Not one of them is great, but I'm happy to report that each is worth seeing.
And what a surprise to sit through three big-ticket movies in a row and
not feel insulted.
sheer narrative power, the best of the lot is "The Last Castle". The story
begins with a voice-over and cranks up to a steady, satisfying speed, which
it never relinquishes. The ride is exhilarating enough that minor plot
failures bounce off the movie's windshield. We note a few small collisions
along the way, but we consign them to memory because the trip is so interesting.
This movie takes place almost entirely within the confines of a high security
military prison – proof enough that an expansive geography isn't necessary
to tell a good story. Aside from a great yarn that pits a defrocked 3 star
hero against an armchair commandant, the best thing about "The Last Castle"
is the extraordinary performance of James Gandolfini. Redford is Redford,
which is good, and Mark Ruffalo is fine in a small part, but Gandolfini
is great. If the Oscars were more than hype and PR, Gandolfini would surely
be nominated for this role. Take a look. See for yourself. Let me
know what you think.
on my list is "K-PAX". Kevin Spacey plays the part of 'Prot'which rhymes
with remote, which is roughly how far his home planet is from earth. Or
is it? That, finally, becomes the top-drawer question. For at least the
first half of the film, the viewer is thoroughly convinced that Jeff Bridges'
character, a jaded chief shrink at The Manhattan Institute of Psychiatry
is in for a big surprise. We know he'll discover, in some climactic way,
that Prot is who he says he is. Partly because we see Bridges sleep-walking
through his personal world, eyes and ears closed to his beautiful family,
and partly because we see the effect that Prot has on his fellow inmates.
I am, of course, assuming that you've seen the previews for "K-PAX" and
know by now that 'Prot', upon his arrival, has been swept from the streets
of New York and hustled to the nearsest pych ward.
I'm a sucker, but I found the conversations between Prot and his psychiatrist
compelling. But as the film rounds the bend toward home, there is a scene
involving hypnosis. Literally and figuratively, the scene almost put me
to sleep and I never quite woke up after that.
the film for me is the contrast in style between these two fine actors.
If there's an irony gene, Kevin Spacey has at least one of them. And while
irony seems to have passed from fashion in certain quarters, I continue
to be fascinated by it. It seems always to be accompanied by a keen intelligence,
perhaps, indeed, to spring from it. Bridges is no less smart. His characters
mask their exasperation in a controlled gentility. They are less overtly
ironic, but almost always shrewd, as is the case in this film. See "K-PAX"
partly for the story, but at least as much for the performances of Jeff
Bridges and Kevin Spacey. They're pros.
on my list is "From Hell". This is a re-telling of the often-told story
of Jack The Ripper. What Edvard Munch did for the rictus, the Hughes brothers
attempt for late nineteenth century Victorian London. But this movie is
so stylized that what's really bled from it is emotion. In my book, that's
not a good thing. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the craft in this surprizingly
terrorless terror film. The crimes depicted were ghoulish, but the directors'
dark panache overwhelms the evil, almost celebrates it.
a number of numbing performances in which Johnny Depp's range seemed limited
to how convincingly he could brood, he opens up just a bit in "From Hell".
As a desolute police inspector, he's not half-bad. But the real accolades
go to Robbie Coltrane whose physical stature and acting abilities overwhelm
Depp's in this dark and would-be-moody piece.
know I'm not making this sound like quite the interesting film that it
somehow manages to be. But in spite of my reservations about it, it's far
better made than the average Hollywood crud. The supporting actors are
fun to watch, and even if you can't quite believe the movie, in the end,
you'll have seen a spectacle, a welcome diversion from what's filled movie
screens for most of this year.
The Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.
Copyright Dennis Morton 2001