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Movie reviews: "The Last Castle"

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Oct 19, 2001 | 1:34pm EDT

Putting James Gandolfini in a starring role in a movie for the first time has both its advantages and its drawbacks, it would seem. Critics are, for the most part, praising his performance in the prison drama The Last Castle, in which he stars opposite Robert Redford.

Yet many of those same critics complain that The Last Castle compares poorly with The Sopranos, the HBO series that made Gandolfini a big star to begin with.

(In a feature about the movie appearing in today's Toronto Globe & Mail writer Simon Houpt observed: "The Sopranos is so finely wrought, and his work in it so sublime, it is disturbing to see him in something as hackneyed as The Last Castle.")

Nevertheless, the film has received several raves. Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post writes that it is a rare pleasure to see a movie "that combines exciting action with a smart, well-informed script and vivid yet restrained performances."

On the other hand, across town at the New York Daily News, writer Jack Mathews scoffs, "I don't know why Redford and the white-hot Gandolfini signed on for this fiasco."

Los Angeles Daily News critic Bob Strauss voices a similar verdict. The film, he says, "manages to be howlingly simplistic and ridiculously illogical at the same time."

Curiously, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times admits he has ambivalent feelings about the movie: "The immediate experience of watching The Last Castle is strongly involving, and the action at the end, exciting," he writes. "It's the kind of movie people tell you they saw last night and really liked. I really liked it last night, too. It's only this morning that I'm having trouble with it."

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