By: John M Jerva
Action heavyweights Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins have been quietly assembling an action genre dream team as of late as the two stars have appeared in four films together with a fifth one on the way. Lundgren and Adkins have brought their high-octane A game to such pics as Expendables 2, Legendary, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and now with the action-drama Castle Falls. This film also marks the triumphant return of Lundgren in the director’s chair as he hasn’t helmed a film since 2010’s Icarus. Lundgren, as a director, has always delivered low fi action cinema with his films as they all have been lower budgeted affairs but they have never been short on the most important thing which is, of course, the action. In this newest offering, Lundgren not only directs but he also stars once again along with Adkins in a story of desperate men driven to desperate means to get what they need to survive in a harsh and bitter life.
Castle Falls sees Adkins starring as Mike Wade who is a former MMA fighter who has seen his best days behind him. Wade doesn’t want to admit that his career is in the rearview mirror so he tries one last attempt to regain what he once had but a shoulder injury submarines his best efforts and now he’s reduced to living in his old truck while he constantly searches for work. Opportunity knocks when he’s hired as part of a demolition crew who is tasked with clearing out Castle Heights Hospital before it’s scheduled for demolition.
Enter Richard Ericson (Lundgren) who is a prison guard who has a daughter that is deathly ill with cancer. Insurance isn’t covering the costs of her expensive treatments and now Ericson is strapped to do something desperate to save his little girl before it’s too late. Fate intervenes one day when Ericson discovers from an inmate that 3 million in cold hard cash has been hidden in Castle Heights by a ruthless convict named Damian Glass (Robert Berlin) who stole it from his adversaries.
Wade discovers the cash and subsequently takes it as he sees an opportunity that he cannot bypass. Unfortunately, the convict’s brother Deacon Glass (Scott Hunter) claims it for himself and he and his crew of killers descend upon the doomed building to reclaim the money for themselves which puts them on a collision course with Wade and Ericson who must form an unlikely partnership to stay alive as the clock is ticking on the demolition of the building.
Upon looking at the trailer for Castle Falls and one might be led to believe that this is another Die Hard meets Trespass knock off fueled with action sequences featuring the particular sets of skills from our capable stars. While that is true to a certain degree, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this latest entry in the Lundgren/Adkins arsenal is much more than your standard action film. Sure, it’s loaded with fight sequences and Adkins is given ample opportunity to showcase his on-screen prowess along with Lundgren but the initial first two/thirds of the movie is more of a slow burn as Lundgren sets up the narrative and gives us time to discover what is truly driving these men to do the unthinkable. As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures and Wade and Ericson definitely fit the profile of desperate men. They’re not bad men by any stretch of the imagination but they have been pinned into a corner like rabid wolverines and we all know what happens when good men are pushed to their limits.
The beginning and middle of the narrative gives the audience some much needed character set up and Adkins and Lundgren make the most of it as they deliver performances that make you care about what they are going through. What would you do in the same situation is the burning question that Lundgren asks and it is in this initial setup of the movie that makes the last act count even more and delivers an added dramatic fuel to the action that is certainly needed. Adkins’ last film before this one was One Shot and that film was a marathon of real time adrenaline that was virtually non-stop from beginning to end. Castle Falls is the complete 180 opposite as the action doesn’t hit until the last third of the movie and that was fine with me as I was vested with the characters and I wanted them to succeed and survive even though they weren’t necessarily doing the right thing.
Lundgren and Adkins have appeared in three other films before Castle Falls and in all of them, they were on opposing sides so while it was great to see them go head to head, here they team up to take on Glass and his merry band of cutthroats. Fans will definitely savor our two action stars finally fighting on the same side but they do get the chance to tussle before they make peace. Their altercation is faster and less brutal than their now classic throwdown in Day of Reckoning and while it never reaches the barbaric heights of that matchup, it’s still fun to see them go at it a little before they eventually see eye to eye. The rest of the running time sees our two legends of action take it to Glass and his henchmen which is good news for fans.
Adkins definitely gets to have the most fun when it comes to the fisticuffs and is able to show off a little flash in his choreography which was once again staged by action maestro Tim Man. The fights here are more realistic in nature and if you go in not expecting to see the human special effect do a series of extreme Boyka moves then you’ll enjoy the sequences for what they are which are more of the MMA caliber and grounded in their execution. Don’t worry though as both Adkins and Lundgren get to run and gun as well as there are a few shootouts to equal out the empty handed action.
Lundgren also gets to mix it up a little here as we see a more sensitive side to his character of Ericson. He’s just a loving, hard working father who has been given a raw deal as cancer has inflicted his daughter so at this point, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep her alive. We are used to seeing Lundgren play one note killing machines in a majority of his films and while that is perfectly acceptable for the action star, here it is extremely refreshing to see him play a more human man with a distinct vulnerable side.
Scott Hunter as Deacon Glass is the movie’s true villain and he is indeed an imposing figure who has not one decent bone in his body. He’s a criminal plain and simple and he’s only there to get the money because he’s a greedy and self-righteous foe who only is looking out for himself and his equally vile brother who is rotting away in prison. Hunter also has the physical means to deliver in the film’s climatic fight sequence so that right there is good news as Adkins has someone who can dish it out as good as he gets.
As a director, Lundgren keeps things simple and it’s clear that the budget for Castle Falls wasn’t huge but that’s OK as he is able to do a lot with what he has to work with and when he has a co-star like Adkins, you don’t need a lot of money to make it look good. Lundgren keeps things moving in its 87-minute running time and shoots the action cleanly and viewable at all times so the audience can see himself, Adkins and crew do their thing. When you have the level of talent involved in front of and behind the camera, then you don’t have to hide things with camera tricks and quick edits. I’ve enjoyed all of Lundgren’s directorial efforts for different reasons and here I commend the action star for takins some chances with this project.
I feel that it’s also important to point out that the filming on Castle Falls started right when the COVID lockdown happened. They literally shot for one day in March of 2020 and then had to be shut down due to the pandemic that was starting to surge in the U.S. Filming resumed later that year in October but Lundgren probably had one of his most challenging shoots ever as he had to deal with uncertainty, new safety protocols and more. It’s probably a huge success that this film even got made at all and that it looked as good as it did so my hat goes off to Lundgren, Adkins and the cast and crew for what they had to overcome in the face of adversity.
The final throwdown between Adkins and Hunter is the definite highlight as Scott is able to do his thing longer and Hunter is more than capable of keeping up with the star. It’s an adequate climax that will give Adkins fans enough fuel to want to watch it again and that is all we can ask for as the actor is trying to mix things up in this stage of his career. It’s not a long altercation as time is running out but it’s long enough to highlight Adkins and here we are treated to what you would expect from the man who continues to impress with his physical and dramatic abilities all at the same time.
Overall, Castle Falls won’t please everyone as some will surely complain that it is slow at first but I feel that it was needed to set up the actions of the characters and make the audience care for the outcome. Fans will most likely compare this one with Universal Soldier and if you do then you will be left wanting more but this is a more low fi affair that relies on character development just as much as the action these stars are known for. There’s enough on display here to satisfy genre fans I think and if you get passed the initial setup then the viewer will be rewarded with the signature action that they came to see. Lundgren is an actor’s director because he is one himself and it shows in the finished product as he keeps things simple and gives himself and his ultra-talented co-star enough to do and in turn fans will walk away from this with more than just violence and bone breaking.
Castle Falls is just as much a character study as it is an action film and the slow burn intro and the faster passed third act gel well with each other. Lundgren and Adkins do what they do best while at the same time they give the audience a little something different with the finished product. This is a smaller budgeted affair so don’t go in expecting huge action set pieces but instead savor in the more personal approach that Lundgren gives the movie and its cast. The fights are more realistic in nature but that is part of its charm and there’s definitely enough action and violence to please the masses while at the same time delivering a human story that propels the action and makes it a necessity.