Saturday 18 June 2011

The Last Castle

In unconventional casting, Hollywood's leading liberal Robert Redford plays a maverick US Army General, who's sentenced to a military prison after disobeying orders.

Unfortunately for Old Sundance, the military prison is run by an autocratic disciplinarian played by James Gandolfini. Initially intent on quietly serving his sentence, Redford resolves to lead a prison coup after his bleeding heart is moved by the inmates brutal treatment.

What follows is a regulation prison break movie with a side-order of Bob's liberal values thrown in. However, the predictable formula is briefly enlivened by a helicopter explosion. 

During the revolt, Gandolfini calls in a chopper to help restore order in the jail's yard. The prisoners, anticipating this move, secure a grappling hook to the chopper to enable an inmate (who's also a pilot) to shin up the chain and takes control of the helicopter.

On a nearby guard tower a sadistic prison officer finds himself face to face with the helicopter's pilot. The guard goes to shoot the pilot who spins the tail of the chopper around, so the rear rotor makes mince meat of the officer, destroying the tower and the rear of the chopper.

Without a rear rotor the helicopter spins round out of control before crashing into the ground. The selflessly compassionate Redford is the first to act and helps the pilot from the chopper which has already caught fire. Moments after they're clear the helicopter explodes.


The helicopter creates some impressive destruction prior to its crash. It's also nice to see the wounded chopper, spin around wildly as the pilot loses control.

Tantalisingly, after it crashed into the ground, it looks like the helicopter isn't going to explode, however, the camera shot lingers just that moment too long, and sure enough, up she goes.

Artistic merit

More attention is spent on blowing up the guard tower and the chopper's dramatic crash landing than the actual explosion. By now the chopper is already in several pieces following its collision with the guard tower and plummet into the ground. There's barely enough left of it to blow up. As they make their escape from the wreckage, Ruffalo and Redford both flinch in time honoured action movie style as the whirlybird finally goes up.

Relevance to plot

If anything it's TOO relevant. The helicopter makes several conspicuous appearance earlier in the film, and Mark Ruffalo's past as a pilot is gratuitously foreshadowed.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None. Director Rod Lurie fails to break any new ground in the art of exploding helicopters, however, it could be the only prison movie which features an exploding helicopter.


You wouldn't think that prison movie genre would be fertile ground for exploding helicopters, but Lockout, Fortress 2 and Escape From LA all feature chopper fireballs. 


Unfortunately, after the excitement of the destruction of the guard tower and the damaged helicopter's crash, the final explosion of the helicopter is disappointingly routine.


  1. I want to know how all these people survive helicopter crashes?

    I don't think the odds in the real world are quite so favourable.

  2. Good point. I think it might be worth adding this in as a new category to monitor.

  3. The most ridiculous survival from a helicopter explosion I've ever seen is Ewen McGregor in Angels & Demons. He selflessly takes off in a helicopter with a bomb, so that it will explode harmlessly, albeit, seemingly at the expense of his own life. The chopper disappears into the clouds. We hear an explosion. We assume McGregor has died valiantly. Only he suddenly drifts down on a parachute very much alive. Vatican priests it seems never go to church without one.

  4. Yes defo new category. "Do passengers survive?"

  5. What Mark Ruffalo did with this Helicopter was incredibly dangerous!

  6. It goes without saying, don't try this at home kids.

  7. It goes without saying, don't try this at home kids.