Prison movies have been around for some time. THE BIG HOUSE in 1930 is a perfect example of how far back. But most movies glossed over the ins and outs of prison, focusing on those trying to escape of the camaraderie found among cell mates. But that isn't reality. It wasn't until films made in the 70s began talking about the cold hard facts of prison life including rape, drugs and murder.
When ANIMAL FACTORY came out in 2000 it received high praise from critics as well as those who saw it. But those numbers were small and the film fell into that void of movies you may have heard of but were completely forgotten. With this new Arrow Video release the chance to see it in the best format possible has arrived.
The centerpiece of the story is Ron Decker (Edward Furlong), a young man arrested for dealing pot and who is to be made an example of. Sentenced to hard time in one of the worst prisons possible the odds of his surviving unscathed on his own are slim. Fortunately he's taken under the wing of Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), a long time prisoner who knows how things work and is willing to protect him.
Rather than what most would expect here, someone offering protection in exchange for things like sexual favors, Copen becomes a father figure to Decker. He's seen what can happen to a young man here and you get the sense that he wants to atone for past deeds by making sure this man has the opportunity to get out and live his life the way he should.
The film focuses on how the prison works more than anything. While overseen by the warden and the guards it is the prisoners who do most of the work here. We're not talking making license plates of doing laundry but things like fill out reports for the guards, typing up parole requests and more. The guards may oversee them and break them up when a fight begins but for the most part the prisoners run the books.
With that in mind Copen is able to land Decker various jobs in the prison that offer him a chance at easy labor. He takes him into the crew that he's assembles, one that no one messes with and that can get things accomplished behind the confinement walls. Problems might erupt, violence might occur but Copen and his gang avoid that as much as possible.
As Decker's opportunity for parole gets closer Copen instructs him on how to stay clear of problems that might prevent that from happening. When inmate Buck Rowan (Tom Arnold) attempts to rape him, Ron loses sight of the big picture and sets out to kill him. Unsuccessful in his attempt it ruins his chance of parole and earns him 5 more years in prison.
Still wishing a better life for the youngster Copen begins looking for a way to escape. His involvement in the Rowan affair could also lead to his being moved to another prison where he would have to start all over again. The time for escape is now and they begin to find a way to make it happen.
Actor Steve Buscemi has a small role here on screen but a major one behind the camera as he directed the film. While not the most graphic and hard hitting of prison films life there is depicted well enough to instill fear in anyone who thinks they could do easy time. This is a difficult world to travel in and one not to be taken lightly. It is a violent world where the odds of a guard being there at the right time to prevent something bad happening are slim to none.
Dafoe is one of the great actors today. His portrayal of Copen shows that a performance is as much about subtle nuance as it is about speaking the written word. You get the impression by his movements and actions that he has a genuine concern for this young man as opposed to trying to find someone to be his slave.
The weakest part of the film is Furlong. I've never been a fan and his record shows that his abilities are not up to par with those around him. He arrived with a splash in TERMINATOR 2 and from there never made anything worthy of mention or recognition. Here he does little to increase my admiration for him allowing the rest of the cast to carry the film.
What's more interesting about the film that you learn from the extras is that it is based on the book of the same name written by Edward Bunker, an ex-con and criminal who left behind a life of crime to become a novelist, screenwriter and actor. Most will remember him as Mr. Blue in Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS. He has a small role here as one of the prisoners.
Arrow Video is releasing the film with a great digital transfer and extras enough to keep your interest. Those include an interview with Barry Forshaw discussing Eddie Bunker's varied career, an audio commentary track with novelist/co-writer/actor Bunker and co-producer/actor Danny Trejo (who also stars in the film), a theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve with newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips and for the first pressing only a collector's booklet containing new writing on the film by Glenn Kenny. Once again Arrow Video shows why they're becoming one of the best companies around for films like these.
Crime / Drama
Crime / Drama
Ron, who's young, slight, and privileged, is sentenced to prison on marijuana charges. For whatever reason, he brings out paternal feelings in an 18-year prison veteran, Earl Copan, who takes Ron under his wing. The film explores the nature of that relationship, Ron's part in Earl's gang, and the way Ron deals with aggressive cons intent on assault and rape. There's casual racism, too, in the prisoners and the guards, a strike called by Black prisoners, and the nearly omnipresence of hard drugs. Ron's lawyer is working on getting Ron out quickly, Earl has a shot at parole, and death seems to be waiting in the next cell. Will prison turn Ron into an animal?
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November 25, 2017 at 11:03 PM