Two career officers vie for the hearts and minds of military inmates in this didactic drama, which opens as warden Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini) and his right-hand man, Captain Peretz (Steve Burton), prepare to take possession of an unusual prisoner. Three-star general Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) is legendary. A much-decorated combat veteran, former POW and the author of celebrated text "The Burden of Command," he's the last person you'd expect to see marched into a detention yard in shackles. And yet here he is. Determined to treat Irwin like any other prisoner, Winter who's never seen combat can't entirely contain his admiration. A collector of military memorabilia, he goes so far as to ask Irwin to sign a copy of his book. But as Winter is returning, volume in hand, he overhears Irwin repeating a disparaging remark his own father once made about men who collect souvenirs of battle without having experienced war at first hand. The gauntlet has been dropped. Irwin's fellow prisoners immediately ask him to help them undermine Winter, claiming that Winter is a man of iron whims who rules his "castle" with violence and psychological cruelty. Winter, sensing that Irwin could easily become a threat to his command, tries to appeal to his sense of military honor, pointing out that convicts are criminals first and foremost. Sweet-faced young Aguilar (Clifton Collins Jr.) is in for having maimed his CO with a claw hammer. Doc (Frank Military) is a hophead, while cynical helicopter pilot Yates (Mark Ruffalo) whose father served under Irwin masterminded a drug-running operation and used the men under his command as couriers. Why would Irwin throw in his lot with such ruffians? But once Irwin has seen Winter's brutality first-hand, he can't watch from the sidelines. David Scarpa and Graham Yost's screenplay couches all sorts of questions in dramatic form: Should a man be judged by his worst act or by his greatest potential? Should prison punish or rehabilitate? What makes a leader of men? Is it better to die for an ideal or to live to fight another day? But while the film is shot in shades of gray, the drama is played out in black and white: Irwin is a righteous man, Winter is a pompous pissant. And with that established, the ending is a foregone conclusion.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: R
- Review: Two career officers vie for the hearts and minds of military inmates in this didactic drama, which opens as warden Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini) and his right-hand man, Captain Peretz (Steve Burton), prepare to take possession of an unusual prisoner. T… (more)