A Black Day For British Columbia, As Terrified Hostages Are Forced Into A Dramatic Climax.
Born in France, Christian Bruyère based his 1978 play "Walls", as well as the screenplay, for this climactically violent film that was first released six years later, upon an actual hostage-taking situation that occurred in 1975 at the since closed British Columbia Penitentiary, wherein a social worker assigned to the Prison, Mary Steinhauser, was slain. The play opened in Vancouver, its law-breaking lead performed by Winston Rekert, who is also top-billed here in this Canadian-made production. Bruyère, subsequently an accomplished Vancouver-based film producer, somewhat alters history by reducing the amount of hostages from the true-to-life 15 to fewer than half of that number, during a relentlessly nerve-wracking deadlock between three convicts and an emergency response team deployed to quell the rebellion. The rebel leader, Andy Bruce (here named Danny Baker) demands use of an aircraft as part of a largely quixotic scheme to remove the felons to a non-selected (!) neutral country. Shot in 16 mm, this low budgeted affair maintains viewer interest from its opening scene, eschewing most potential clichés, while balancing the convicts' request for an improvement in living conditions (in particular those related to solitary confinement) pitted against a difficult task facing prison and other law enforcement personnel. Baker, the main figure of this melodrama, is established as the intellectual of the trio during a scene where he is viewed within his 8 x 10 cell reading T.S. Eliot's "Wasteland". Nonetheless, his heroin addiction and convictions for specially vicious crimes do not place him morally above the other abductors, although he is modestly efficient at organizing the escapade. The film's opening scenes, that depict the onset of the hostage taking, are supplanted by a psychologizing back story that allows a viewer to learn a little about the half-crazed threesome and how the dramatic action came about. Ironically, a real-life romantic attachment between Bruce and a female government employee is not depicted, to the film's clear advantage, as it therefore remains a generally well-presented thriller, Bruce/Baker not being discredited through mawkish sentiment. The episode remains under discussion in Western Canada to this day. Director Tom Shandel fashions an above-standard narrative through effective pacing. Rekert handily gains the acting honours and mention must be made of an accurate penal atmosphere created by production designer Graeme Murray, not an easy assignment.
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