THE LAST CASTLE
Leaders And Followers
"What are the qualities that make a leader? What is the DNA, so to speak, of leadership?" Director Rod Lurie poses the questions that, for him, sum up the central theme of "The Last Castle."
The original screenplay about a revered general whose leadership is tested when he is court-martialed and sent to military prison was somewhat inspired by a classic film that chronicled the story of a real-life military legend. Screenwriter David Scarpa recalls, "I had wanted to write a war movie, but one set in the present day. I was watching 'Patton' when I was struck by an idea: What would happen to a legendary general if he were convicted of a major offense and sent to a stockade? Realizing that the general would fall under the control of the stockade's warden—a lower-ranking officer—my first thought was 'Who salutes whom?'. I realized that the resulting battle of egos could be the basis for a movie. It occurred to me that this was about a palace coup—a story of two men locked in a psychological chess game, each vying to become 'king.' It wouldn't be a movie about prisoners trying to escape, but rather fighting for control."
Upon hearing Scarpa's idea, producer Robert Lawrence recalls, "It immediately appealed to me for several reasons, the first being that I love stories about redemption and the triumph of the human spirit. The story centers on a microcosm of men whom we are led to believe had been idealistic at some point in their lives—idealistic enough to have signed up to serve in the military—but, for whatever reason, their lives took a wrong turn and they ended up in this institution. Nevertheless, they are all still capable of great courage and honor. When this court-martialed general comes along, he reawakens all those feelings, which leads to a conflict with the prison warden, Colonel Winter. Whereas General Irwin, believing that anyone is capable of redemption, looks for the good in these men, Winter feels they've dishonored the uniform he wears so proudly and labels them as irredeemable, and therein lies a clash of wills."
Veteran writer Graham Yost, who had recently gotten his own brand of military experience as a screenwriter on the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," later came onboard to collaborate on what became the final screenplay for "The Last Castle."
The director chosen to helm the "The Last Castle" brought a unique qualification to the table. While probably not the only current Hollywood director to have served in the armed forces, Rod Lurie is the only one to have graduated from the United States Military Academy, better known as West Point. Lurie's West Point education and subsequent military experience afforded him a special understanding of the forces at play in the story.
"Having Rod direct this movie was a real gift," Lawrence remarks. "With his military background, he can appreciate the mindset of the characters and the specific values at the crux of the conflict, and offers a tremendous degree of believability to the actors playing soldiers. Then, as a filmmaker, he has a wonderful capacity for working with actors and has a strong visual style. When you combine all that, you have the ideal director for the material."
On the heels of writing and directing the acclaimed political thriller "The Contender," Lurie states that "The Last Castle" was the first script he read that "got my creative juices flowing." He goes on to explain, "It immediately struck me because it dealt with a topic that is very dear to me, which is the definition of true leadership. The movie presents what I believe is a very simple concept: that leadership is innate. Real leaders have no choice in the matter; it's a destiny that comes from within. It isn't a function of rank, and you can't fake it or try to escape it. If you truly are a leader, you can't sit back and smell
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