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? Written by
The potential is there but it loses it's way on the way to a cop out ending
With it being an election year, the pressure is on when a privileged white kid is found with a considerable amount of drugs and the judge sends him down for five years. With his boyish good looks and youth Ron Decker is a clear mark for rapists and gangs. However, early in his time he gets connected to the head of one of the gangs, Earl Copen, who takes him under his wing and looks after him.
Being a big fan of Oz, the trailer for this film drew me simply because the similarities to this series was a draw to me. Despite the big names attached to this film I can only assume it did limited business in the US as it seemed to take years to reach the UK. Despite this wait I was still interested in seeing it and got it on dvd recently. The film is more realistic than the hyper brutal Oz, as it focuses on real characters without ignored the reality of rape and gangs. The dramas of prison life are on the screen and are dramatic, but the script has a few problems.
It is never satisfactorily explained why Copen takes Decker under his wing. Why does this hardened, bitter lifer take to this new fish over any other one? The answer isn't ever made clear and is barely hinted at; after a while the film seems to want to just get past this whole issue and move on with the story. This it does well and the story is interesting and involving (except that whole niggle), at least until a terribly unsatisfying cop-out ending which really left me feeling disappointed in the whole thing.
The cast are excellent though and are mostly used well. Dafoe is good and manages to keep his character likeable. My only complaint about his performance is that I didn't get the feeling that his Copen was hard or bitter enough to really convince me that he had spent his whole life in prison, he was too nice and too considerate. Furlong is better because he has a simpler role, he plays his gradual transformation well. The support cast features a lot of smaller roles, some from familiar support roles playing standard felons such as Trejo, Cassel and La Botz. Outside of these, Rourke and Arnold both stand out playing very different roles that are as effective as they are brief.
Buscemi has a small role but his main contribution here is as director. He directs with a refreshing honesty, he isn't overly stylish and he doesn't over egg dramatic cake in the same way as the maker of Oz will generally have quite a brutal feel to most of the scenes. He could have done with making some of the scenes a bit more dramatic but it works fine as it is.
Overall this is an OK film but never a really good one. The dramatics of a prison story are there to be had but the script doesn't use them that well, eventually falling into a rather clichéd escape plot that only serves to take away from the reality of the film and the characters. It starts well and has promise but Bunker's script seems to get lost past the halfway mark and sadly ends with a climax than only serves to disappoint.
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