Last Castle, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 22, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Last Castle, The (4K UHD Review)


Rod Lurie

Release Date(s)

2001 (February 20, 2024)


DreamWorks/Paramount (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B+

The Last Castle (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


In the first few minutes of The Last Castle, Rod Lurie lays his cards on the table by showing Col. Winter (James Gandolfini) listening to Salieri—on vinyl, no less, which is a nice touch. It’s a brief moment that’s easy to miss, but it quickly limns the nature of the entire story. For all of the military trappings, The Last Castle is essentially a reworking of Amadeus: a man with limited skills of his own becomes destructively jealous of a truly accomplished individual. The music may be different (Jerry Goldsmith, in this case), but one hears such sounds and what can one say... but Salieri. The fact that Winter is still listening to LPs in 2001 is also appropriate, because he’s a man who collects artifacts of past glories as a way of making up for the fact that he hasn’t experienced any of his own.

Winter’s antagonist in The Last Castle is a legendary three-star general named Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford), who has been court-martialed and sent to the maximum-security military prison that Col. Winter oversees. Winter deeply admires Irwin, but because of his own insecurities due to lack of combat experience, he feels the need to exert his authority over Irwin and the rest of the inmates. Irwin simply wants to do his time and leave, but as he becomes aware of Winter’s sadistic treatment of the other prisoners, his own natural leadership skills result in them becoming organized and forming a resistance. Winter’s initial feelings of inadequacy may be due to his inexperience, but as the story progresses, he becomes insanely jealous of the loyalty commanded by men like Irwin. While The Last Castle does bear a superficial resemblance to a few other military films (and it even has a touch of Redford’s Brubaker to it), it’s still ultimately the story of an insecure Salieri doing everything in his power to destroy a naturally gifted Mozart.

The Last Castle marked the first time that Lurie directed a film that he didn’t also write. In this case, the screenplay was by David Scarpa and Graham Yost, working from a story by Scarpa. Still, as a fellow West Point graduate and a kindred spirit to Irwin, there’s no doubt that Lurie helped to shape the overall feel of The Last Castle, if not the actual script. It didn’t hurt that he received the gift of a lifetime in the form of Robert Redford, who was a natural to play Irwin. The role takes advantage of Redford’s inherent nobility that he has always been able to evoke wordlessly—one silent shot of his remarkably stoic face is worth pages of dialogue. Gandolfini also plays to his own strengths as an actor, and while he was wonderful playing against type in films like Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, he was almost too perfect for a character like Winter. (He was a bit reluctant to take the Salieri role, until Lurie reminded him who actually won the Oscar for Amadeus). The rest of the superb cast was rounded out with familiar faces like Delroy Lindo and Paul Calderón, plus newcomers like Mark Ruffalo and Clifton Collins, Jr.—both of whom were well on their way to becoming familiar faces of their own.

Despite all of the talent on display, The Last Castle ended up being a box office failure, but that was at least partly due to it being a victim of bad timing: it was released on October 19, 2001. The original poster design featured an upside-down American flag, and while that was quickly changed after the events of 9/11, this definitely wasn’t the kind of film that audiences wanted to see just five weeks after the towers came down, with Americans still on edge and fearing for the worst. There’s a time and a place for questioning established institutions, but this simply wasn’t one of them. (Unfortunately for Lurie, it wouldn’t be the last of his films to fall victim to external events, with the release of his 2020 film The Outpost being hindered by theatrical closures due to the pandemic.) In the immediate context of post-9/11 America, The Last Castle never stood a chance. Yet removed from that context, it’s a memorable effort from everyone involved, and hopefully it can eventually build up the cult following that it deserves. There’s something truly timeless about the Salieri/Mozart conflict that it presents:

“See, I too share the burden of command. You may not think that I’ve ever set foot on a battlefield, but that’s because you’ve never sat behind this desk. This desk! My men and I are vastly outnumbered. We spend every day behind enemy lines because, make no mistake about it, Mr. Irwin, they are the enemy! But then, I don’t have to justify myself to you, do I, Mr. Irwin?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

Cinematographer Shelly Johnson shot The Last Castle on 35mm film using Panavision Panaflex Platinum cameras with anamorphic lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber’s version uses a master that was supplied by Paramount, based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. It looks like the same master that Paramount used as the basis of their own 1080p Blu-ray release back in 2021, but it shows clear improvements in 4K HDR. Fine detail is better resolved, although that can vary from shot to shot since Johnson utilized diffusion filters occasionally. (There are also a few shots that were composited optically, and they look a bit softer as well.) Paramount has had a mixed record lately in terms of grain removal, but the grain here always looks natural. The colors accurately reflect the overall design for the film by Lurie and Johnson, with the scenes of Winter in his office appearing well-saturated while the scenes in the prison yard are desaturated, although that balance deliberately shifts as the story progresses. The contrast range is improved, with better blacks and clearer highlights—the latter sometimes looked a little blown-out in the Blu-ray version, but they’re more nuanced here. The HDR grade as a whole accentuates the glowing, silvery look of The Last Castle—there’s not much specific information available regrading Johnson’s cinematography, but it almost looks like he applied some kind of a bleach bypass process in order to enhance the contrast, and this HDR grade perfectly supports that look.

Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The surrounds are active throughout the film in order to provide subtle ambience for the prison environment, but they’re much more aggressive during the action scenes later on, with plenty of split surround effects. There’s some deep bass in the music, especially in the track that plays during the opening of the film. Yet it’s Jerry Goldsmith’s score that really stands out in the mix—The Last Castle would end up being one of the last films that he worked on, and he hadn’t lost any of his touch at that late stage of his career. His elegiacal main theme really stands out in particular.

Kino Lorber’s 4K Ultra HD is release of The Last Castle is a two-disc set that includes a 1080p Blu-ray copy of the film and a double-sided insert that features the standard theatrical artwork on the front and the censored theatrical artwork on the reverse (pulled after September 11th, 2001). The slipcover duplicates the standard theatrical artwork. All of the extras from Paramount’s Blu-ray have been ported over, with the addition of a few trailers for other Robert Redford films in Kino Lorber’s catalogue:


  • Audio Commentary by Rod Lurie


  • Audio Commentary by Rod Lurie
  • Rod Lurie on The Last Castle (HD – 10:35)
  • HBO First Look: “Inside the Walls of The Last Castle (SD – 15:01)
  • A Hero’s Farewell – A Discussion on The Alternate Ending (HD – 2:45)
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Colonel Winter (SD – 3:00)
    • The Bookie (SD – 2:02)
    • “We’re Square” (SD – 1:18)
    • Colonel’s Workout (SD – 1:18)
    • DOD Investigation (SD – 2:06)
    • Shadows of Soldiers (SD – 1:19)
    • Pruno (SD – 1:11)
    • Triage (SD – :56)
    • Makeshift Defibrillator (SD – 1:18)
  • Trailer (SD – 2:24)
  • 3 Days of the Condor Trailer (HD – 3:05)
  • Havana Trailer (SD – 3:06)
  • Indecent Proposal Trailer (HD – 2:15)

Lurie’s archival commentary was originally included on the 2002 DreamWorks DVD release of The Last Castle, and it was recorded shortly after the film’s disappointing theatrical release. Lurie discusses the script, the cast, the Mozart vs. Salieri parallels, and the nature of leadership (although he never mentions the fact that he showed Winter listening to the Salieri LP). He also describes the cinematography, the locations, and he explains how they transformed the prison that had been used previously in The Shawshank Redemption. He talks about Goldsmith’s score and how the main cue was composed on 9/11 and ended up being named after that day. It’s a solid track, and Lurie is honest about things that he wishes that he had done differently.

Rod Lurie on The Last Castle covers most of the same information, albeit in greatly condensed form. HBO First Look: “Inside the Walls of The Last Castleis a pretty basic EPK style making-of featurette, offering interviews with Lurie, James Gandolfini, Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Calderón, Delroy Lindo, producer Robert Lawrence, production designer Kirk Petruccelli, and more. It’s pretty cursory, but there are a few interesting moments here, especially when Redford offers some effusive praise for Gandolfini. A Hero’s Farewell – A Discussion on The Alternate Ending features Lurie explaining why he cut the film’s coda, and the Deleted Scenes follow suit, since they offer optional commentary from Lurie. Once again, he admits to making some mistakes, and he second-guesses whether or not he should have left some of them in the film. A few of them do fill in a few gaps from the final cut, like how the prisoners developed the incendiary ammunition for the slingshot. Still, for Lurie fans, the most interesting scene here will be DOD Investigation, which features a cameo by Kathryn Morris as a DOD investigator looking into the death on the prison yard. She was memorable playing a similar role as a wily DOJ investigator in Lurie’s previous film The Contender, so it’s a shame that she hit the cutting room floor this time.

That’s all of the previously available extras, and the 4K HDR presentation of the film has the clear edge over Blu-ray. That means this is the definitive release of The Last Castle, for now and for the foreseeable future as well. If you own Paramount’s Blu-ray, it’s worth the upgrade to 4K, and if you don’t, The Last Castle is worth adding to your collection. Make it so.

- Stephen Bjork

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