Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
I’m not surprised by the lack of positive reviews for this movie. All the timing circumstances aside, American’s wouldn’t have understood this movie anyway. How could they possibly? This movie wasn’t made for everyday Americans. And Redford can get away with acting and producing whatever he feels worthy.
What do I mean? Just what I said, 'Last Castle' was not made for everyday America. Why you ask? They waved the flag all over the place didn't they? Sure, that's how we think post 9/11. Was that the way we felt before 9/11? You bet it wasn't. And O.B.L. knew that. We cruised around in our SUV's, talking on our PCS placing stock trades in our 401k's because we saw an opportunity on the internet via our wireless PDA's.
There is no way that mindset could understand Redford’s General Irwin much less the misguided actions of Gandolfini’s Colonel Winter.
Yes, I'm a flag waiver. But I was one before 9/11. And I understand this movie. I understand that once a soldier always a soldier. I understand the principles that make a soldier can never be erased. I understand that a soldier is both ruthless and kind; duty bound but ethical. THAT is the message of this movie.
Performances were as expected. Special Effects were impeccably believable. And I am beginning to believe that film makers just may have finally got it in their heads that helicopters DON’T EXPLODE! They crash and maybe burn. Amen. The use of lighting and mood was beyond compare. The numerous takes of General Irwin lying on his bunk were enough to bring tears to my eyes. A soldier understands that moment of reflection gained by lay on top your bunk, alone, in the dark, with only your conscience as your bedfellow is a saving grace.
The movie is rife with symbolism; from the currently popular flag waving (remember this movie was made pre-9/11), to carving the names of soldiers into the rocks in the wall, to chess games, to the military trophy cases of the armchair quarterback warden.
I loved the helicopter face off with that trigger happy tower guard. For those of us who understand helicopters there was only one thing that could have happened and the pause prior to the ‘up and cummins’ had me cheering.
But sadly most will miss sense of triumph because they have been raised not to think about the freedoms they take for granted here in this U.S. It's not intentional. Americans just have short attention spans. They love the explosions and special effects. But fail to think that every day someone is making a difficult choice on their behalf somewhere in the world. They don't think about it unless it directly affects them or entertains them.
This movie portrays the ‘kind of people’ most will never know. The prisoners portrayed are led by a man very few could ever be. Only a soldier could understand how and why Redford's General Irwin could or would do the things he did. Did you connect the dots between suicide and flag raising? Could you imagine the ingenuity of those prisoners to make the weapons they made? Gutsy of them, wasn't it? But I find it very possible, very believable. I knew people like this in my lifetime; flawed, imperfect, and wonderfully human.
The reason you didn't like and perhaps didn't understand this movie, dear reader, is because you are not a soldier. You do not think like, and therefore cannot see the hearts of these men. But it’s the way it’s meant to be. Who would a soldier defend if not for the blind, inattentive, ungrateful and self-serving contingent that they promise to lay down their very lives for?
So you say, ‘Hey wait! I LIKED the movie!” Why did you like the movie? You liked the towers exploding, the shattering war trophy case, and the dramatic helicopter scene? But you didn't understand it, not really. It wasn't really about all of that. Those scenes were merely supportive and not climatic. It wasn't really about any personal struggle between the general and the warden. It was about right and wrong, the weakened and the strong, the forgiving and the vengeful, the human and inhuman behavior of mankind, both captor and captive.
Did you understand Aguilera and the bulldozer scene? Once a marine, always a marine; Semper Fi. He was not rebelling. It was just his 'Carpe Diem'. It was his day to be a soldier. It was his day to stand up against the stronger for the weaker. He stood for what was right. Who can understand a marine, but a marine? Perhaps a soldier could, but never fully. A marine is a breed apart. That’s why their very job is to be where the fewest men stand the biggest chance of dying. They say, ‘I’ll go first’. Did you get that? The marine died first, as marines always do.
In short, don't just watch this movie. But, watch it over, over, and over again. Pay attention to the beautiful innuendos. Perhaps, watch it with the soldier of your choice and ask if you don't understand. Even the worst soldier loves his country. It's why he became a soldier in the first place. God knows that McDonalds pays a better starting wage than a private gets in the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard, or Air Force airman. And if they joined because McDonalds wouldn't hire them, they won't make it out of basic.
When you watch it again remember a few things: Soldiers don't become soldiers unless other soldiers say they are worthy. The reasons there are military prisons is because only soldiers can say that you are not behaving like a soldier should. And only soldiers are allowed to punish you. Soldiers don’t have constitutional rights. They literally swear them away with the oath they take. They agree to be governed by their own – other soldiers. This movie is about the RIGHT of being a soldier. Did you get the part about the salute? The warden wasn't a real soldier. And the other real soldiers let him know it and relieved him of his command. When military prisoners finish their sentences, they are then released from duty. Military punishment is a final duty. Think about that and the conflict between Winters and Irwin.
This movie reminded me of those memorable scenes in ‘Patton’ when George C. Scott stood on the site of an ancient Carthaginian battle and ‘remembered a past life’. Generals are trained in warfare. And as Yates comments ‘You’re all only pawns’. Yes, but a chessboard isn’t complete without knights (Yates), a queen (?), bishops (Collins), and of course the castle (played by itself). (Hint: the key to castling effectively is knowing when to ‘switch places’) No one can win with only pawns. So, how many moves ahead was Irwin? He played beautifully and in the end, knew when to let his opponent take his side of the board’s most powerful piece in order to gain the ultimate checkmate.
This movie was about soldiers without the 'glory' of the battlefield. It was about human chess. It was about the perfection of the imperfect. It was about the right to lead. It was about imperfect soldiers, but soldier’s none-the-less.
Bottom Line: Being a soldier is being about volunteering to risk your very life for what is right. And right doesn't change because a jury of your peers has somewhere said you made a very bad mistake.
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older