In the Custody of Strangers (1982 TV Movie)
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Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez are both very good in their respective roles and the other characters are well done as well. While the script has a bit of an `after-school-special' feel about it, it is consistently interesting and it does serve to tell a story that needs telling.
My biggest complaint is with the way Danny's character was portrayed. I get it- a good kid/bad kid. It's just that Emelio Estivez didn't sell me that he was either a bad kid nor a damaged kid from the jail time. Eyes rolling over his "crime scene" and his final scene. I don't blame the actor- I blame the director; either way, he seemed like a caricature.
Still, a modest recommendation.
Young Emilio Esteves plays a small town teen who's father has been laid off and can't find work. His mother (Jane Alexander) works in order to provide for the family of five. Esteves, frustrated with the town, tries to get work or leave the town to find a decent job, but often butts heads with his father (played well by real-life dad, Martin Sheen), who's staunch perception that allowing his son to go to work is a threat to his masculinity. In other words, a father should provide for the family, not his wife, and certainly not the boy.
So, the teen and his father are at odds a lot, and as a result, the teen indulges in a lot of trouble, particularly a night of joyriding drunk and hitting a police car, which is what lands him in trouble. The dad supposes that maybe a night in jail is just what the kid needs to straighten up, but who would've thought that it would turn out to be six weeks? Every time the parents turn around to try and get their son released from prison (he was held in an adult prison, but under law had to remain confined to his own cell and out of contact with other adult prisoners), it's one thing or another preventing their efforts. Delayed court dates, delayed psychological examinations, holidays, weekends, switched judges due to illnesses, you name it. And eventually, it starts to wear down on the teen. And it's done in a way where you feel just as confined in a little eight by eight cell as the movie rolls along. For the teen, the isolation and minute confinement proves too much and is more punishment than he deserves (he was being held for assault and battery of two inmates). And it looks like everyone is helpless for the teen, leading to quite detrimental physical and psychological results.
The point is best expressed at the end: they had the kid for six weeks, and no one could help him in that time. He just sat in this cell and in the end, became suicidal and real high-strung, and in all that time, not one person could help him out since they obviously couldn't manage to expedite his release. These are the effects of a cumbersome and inefficient "justice" system. According to the movie, these are fictional characters, but the movie is based on real results. Though, I think it makes a statement about the juvenille detention system at large, not just some kid confined to a cell after a lot of bureacratic tug-of-rope. It is that a system this overcrowded and inefficient cannot possibly be expected to effectively help anyone. No wonder recidivism rates are so high.
It also comments on the inability of working class parents to b expected by the state to be effective parents to these kids while trying to earn a living at the same time. That's not to say that the teen's parents weren't effective, but they were both trying to get work, and were met with much difficulty in a period of immense economic difficulty (i.e. The Regan Years). This was a family dependent on the longevity of the steel mills and such. When one parent was out of state looking for a job to provide his family, and a mother was requesting that her son be released into her custody, they told the mother it wasn't likely that she could be an effective guardian to the teen simply because she had to work and couldn't be there to watch him ALL the time. That's a reinforcement to central concern about, if the people that these kids know can't help him, how is the system going to do any better.
Emilio Estevez as the angry young man Danny is excellent, in an early role which showed his promise and acting ability. He is indeed his father's son. His story is set against a backdrop of hopelessness and unemployment and his father's emasculation as the wage earner and hunter gatherer. Martin Sheen's character, Frank, is seeking employment having been laid off as foreman in the factory he's spent his adult career in. His frustration at having to almost beg for work, and fear of welfare, whilst his wife earns a wage and keeps the house is palpable and contributes to the rocky relationship with his volatile son. In these early scenes we see Danny cares for his family greatly, that he respects his father but feels embarassed for him.
When Danny drunkenly wrecks a car his Frank lets him stew in the cells for a night to teach him a lesson. After he beats a dirty old lech in self defense he is remanded in the youth cells and is tragically sucked into the system, a system which fails him. His character's brutalisation and growing desperation are well conveyed by Emilio and are thrown into contrast later on when we see his father's and the family's fortunes improving with Frank getting a good new job out of state.
When Danny is finally released we see a different young man. The closing scenes are poignant as Danny silently, hauntingly, watches his father (offscreen) laugh and play with his younger children. We suspect young Danny longs for those innocent days of youth and unquestioning love. Carefree days. Simple days. Happy days.
Warden Caruso has a humorous soft spot for Danny. He just wants this kid out of his jail and there is nothing he can do. That is except carry him out of solitary confinement when the guards refuse to call him at home at Danny's request. Danny Boy is losing his mind after weeks in his own cell. If only he hadn't talked to the man hitting on him in his own holding cell through the bars. Now his life has turned into a month long nightmare.
The story is about a father and his wild son. He's a loud mouth fool who's always getting into his father's hair. One night he's out having a few pops whilst driving. Being a real careless teen, he's driving will under the influence. After being pulled over by the cops and booked for D.U.I., his father refuses to bail the young punk out. Dad feels that his ungrateful soon needs a reality check. But the police have no place for a minor (they probably didn't think a parent was dumb enough to leave a minor overnight in an adult jail).
Well, you can imagine what happens to poor Emilio. Still wet behind the ears, a fellow drunk drunk tries to molest him. Not taking any smack from nobody, Emilio severely hurts the dude. The keystone cops have nothing else to do but lock-up Emilio for a longer stint in the gaol house. What's a young hot headed juvenile going to do? Meanwhile, Martin's feeling a little guilty tries to get his kid out but then he hears about Emilio's extracurricular activities. Will he ever see the light of day? A kid inside a man's gaol.
Like I said, the movie raises a lot of questions about how juvenile perpetrators are treated by law enforcement. Another entertaining made-for-t.v.-movie starring the ever reliable Martin Sheen.