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Movie Review

Gen. Irwin, a highly respected combat hero, is sentenced to 10 years in a high-security military prison (the Castle) for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. Col. Winter, the prison’s warden, has long admired Irwin, but Winter’s insecurities—he’s never served in combat—are reinforced when he overhears Irwin criticizing the colonel’s collection of military memorabilia. Winter, a spiteful man who sees only the worst in people, turns from admiring Irwin to being jealous of him. What follows is a battle of wills between the two as Irwin, a natural leader, tries to instill a sense of pride in the soldiers turned prisoners and Winter, a ruthless warden, determines not only to crush any unrest but Irwin himself. Irwin takes what Winter intends for ill (having the prisoners rebuild the original stone wall for the prison) into a morale-building exercise for the men. Not until halfway into the movie do we find out why Irwin is a convict, and Winter tries to use that information to turn the men against Irwin.

positive elements: Gen. Irwin always looks for the good in others. While at first he doesn’t want to get involved in prison politics, he is thrust to the front by the brutal treatment of the men. Once there, however, he bravely steps forward despite the punishment. He is a natural leader and encourager and uses those traits to bolster the morale of a demoralized prison population. In particular, he seeks out the prisoners despised or distrusted by the others. One prisoner, who tries to play both ends against the middle, eventually finds himself having to make a moral decision, and he does the right thing based on Irwin’s example.

spiritual content: Upon being taken to his cell, Irwin is told he can have only one book at a time in addition to a Bible.

sexual content: At one point Col. Winter says that Gen. Irwin is trying to win the hearts and minds of the inmates. Another soldier remarks, "He can have their hearts and minds as long as we have them by the balls." There is also a joke about masturbation.

violent content: Prison brutality is the norm. Guards abusing inmates. Inmates attacking guards. A fist fight on the exercise yard is allowed to proceed without the guards intervening, resulting in one prisoner’s face being bloodied. Guards shoot prisoners with rubber bullets on numerous occasions, sometimes aiming for the head, which can be fatal. Many instances of prisoners being bludgeoned with truncheons. Prisoners are also bowled over by a water cannon. Prisoners throw Molotov cocktails at prison guards, but some prisoners accidentally set themselves on fire. Guard towers explode. Prisoners shoot at a guard tower with a canister of compressed air fired like a missile. A guard is killed by helicopter rotor blades.

crude or profane language: Frequent (more than 40) uses of the f-word and its variants. Other crudities abound, and the s-word also gets a workout. The Lord’s name is taken in vain about five times.

drug and alcohol content: Prisoners use cigarettes as currency.

other negative elements: Col. Winter is a martinet who looks only for the worst in the men and enjoys manipulating people. He is spiteful and brutal. One prisoner is the in-house bookie, taking odds on everything, including whether Irwin will commit suicide. Prisoners apply bloody tattoos using a needle and ink. In a disjointed scene that distracts from the overall plot line, Irwin is shown to have been a negligent father.

conclusion: This is yet another one of those movies where you find yourself rooting for the "bad" guys. Even though we find out the criminal offense of only a few of the prisoners, they all clearly did something to be where they are, but still they are the only sympathetic characters. No matter how tyrannical Col. Winter is, the prisoners frequently violate lawful orders when they disobey legitimate commands and eventually engage in a prison uprising. Gen. Irwin uses his considerable charisma and military skills to organize and run the battle. Sure, Irwin is a selfless, noble man, but still he encourages disobedience. With the frequent violence and foul language—not to mention the moral ambiguity of the story line—parents are well advised to keep their families kids locked outside of this castle.

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Robert Redford as Gen. Irwin; James Gandolfini as Col. Winter; Mark Ruffalo as Yates; Clifton Collins Jr. as Aguilar; Steve Burton as Capt. Peretz; Delroy Lindo as Gen. Wheeler


Rod Lurie ( )





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Tom Neven

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