Robert Redford stars in this action drama as General Irwin, a respected three-star tactician whose career ends in disgrace when he's court-martialed and sent to The Castle, a maximum security military prison. Irwin quickly butts heads with the facility's autocratic warden, Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), who runs his command with an iron fist, even killing prisoners when he deems it necessary. Irwin rallies his fellow convicts into a rag-tag army and leads them in a revolt against Winter, an action that the warden is ready to repel by violent means.
A dummy is noticeable in the pilot's seat in several shots when the helicopter crashes. See more »
[to captain Pertz, while looking at Winter's military collection, while Winters overhears their conversation]
Any man with a collection like this is a man who's never set foot on a battlefield. To him a minié ball from Shiloh is just an artifact. But to a combat vet, it's a hunk of metal that caused some poor bastard a world of pain.
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I don't know why they bother making movies like this, or why someone with Robert Redford's juice bothers to act in them. It owes a lot to other prison movies, except that it's more genteel than most stories about inmates. The only real surprise is Gandolfini as the Colonel in charge. He looks the part allright, burly and bespectacled, but his working-class accent keeps peeking through the pompous facade and seems to reveal him for the insecure fake he is. My two main problems were these.
1. The plot's unbelievable. Redford organizes an army within the military prison and they carry out their revolt with either "pinpoint accuracy" or "surgical precision." I can't decide which cliche is more apt. (Maybe the inmates are angry because they're "hermetically sealed" within those castular walls.) They couldn't possibly have rehearsed the action sufficiently to have carried it out with such panache. And, anyway, whenever you plan something carefully, it always goes wrong anyway, as the viewer already knows if he's assiduously balanced his asset allocation before getting into the stock market.
2. The revolt seems to me to lack motivation. The colonel just isn't bad enough. You want to find out how bad a military correctional facility gets? Read James Jones' "From Here to Eternity." It isn't necessarily that the corrections officers are sadists, not the ones I've known anyway. It's just that under the proper circumstances they can be pulled into the role of punisher without wanting to be, as Zimbardo's social psychology experiments at Stanford demonstrated decades ago. (The experiment had to be aborted because the students playing the role of "guards" were becoming dangerous.) Redford winds up in the slams, sees a few examples of mistreatment, and demands the resignation of the CO. When that's not forthcoming he organizes an army and takes over the prison himself. And for goals that aren't clearly defined. Inmates are sacrificing their lives (and killing ordinary enlisted cadre as well) for reasons that are hard to figure out. What actually do they want? It's as much a mystery as it was at Attica, where every written document from the authorities, including one that granted all of the inmates' demands, were dramatically ripped up in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Yes, what did Redford and the rest want? To run up an American flag upside down? To what end? I'm afraid I can figure out the answer, although the writers and director don't tell us. It is that they needed some kind of "goal", no matter how ridiculous or petty, in order to set the story up for the final 20-minute burst of action, with the usual fireballs.
Sometimes I can be made to believe that there is a limited quantity of ideas circulating around in Hollywood circles like viruses and they mutate by rearranging their molecules, a cliche here, an obligatory explosion there. Producing a new movie consist of filling them back and forth, switching them around, changing the order of the boxcars on a never-changing train. What's Redford doing? Maybe he needs the money.
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