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Within These Walls was a good way to spend 2 hours. It is one of the
made-for-TV movies I have seen in a long time. Although it may not be
to the facts, I did find it to be uplifting and encouraging. The idea of
inmates training dogs was not new to me, but seeing it brought to life was
cool. I am glad to know that some inmates out there are finding new
purpose, dogs are being saved and handicapped people are getting helped
(even if it is only a few).
Joan is a hardened, emotionless criminal. Most of the other prisoners seem to be afraid of her and just leave her alone. Sister Pauline is a nun with a complicated past who wants to get a program started at the womens' prison where the inmates will train dogs for the handicapped. She believes it is a win-win-win situation. It takes a little work to convince the warden, but eventually she, as well as the female guard responsible for supervising the project, are fully on board. A lot of human drama among Sister Pauline and the women training the dogs takes place, as well. We quickly see many little ways in which the activity is changing all their lives.
All that said, Ellen Burstyn is, as she always is, the glue that holds this piece together. The woman can act! She can play anything. This time, uncharacteristically, she is playing a rather unpleasant and unlikable (at least initially) character, Joan Thomas. Ms. Burstyn is aided nicely by Laura Dern (as Sister Pauline), never one of my particular favorites, but effective here. The actresses playing the guard, warden, and the other two dog-training prisoners are also quite capable.
I like the way that we get to find out bits and pieces at a time about Joan's and Pauline's pasts and why they are the way they are. We aren't just smacked over the head with it constantly. The filmmakers did a nice job of interspersing the dog training scenes with the scenes of interaction among the women. I felt like I was going through the emotional highs and lows with them. Ellen Burstyn has an uncanny ability to rip my heart out just by the look in her eyes, and she does it again in Within These Walls.
Overall, it gets a B+ from me.
While Hallmark Entertainment is one of the companies that produced this
film, it does not suffer from the "Hallmark" stigma of being cloying and
artificial. From what I can tell (not having had any experience with the
situations depicted in the film except dog ownership), it seems very
realistic (even if it's not 100% true to the real-life story it's based on,
per another commenter). Conflicts that are introduced don't go away as if
magic wand were waved, and characters that struggle have to keep on
struggling. Because of this depiction of grey areas rather than black &
white contrasts, and the fact that things don't come for free, the movie is
much more touching than its manipulative tear-jerker TV movie
Heh. It's funny, within a few days time I saw "Girls In Prison" (1994) (TV) and then this film. It'd be tough to make two more different "women behind bars" films than these two, in terms of realism, dramatic quality, acting, and meaningfulness.
Anyway, if you're a fan of Laura Dern, a dog lover, a person interested in an apparently realistic yet not gratuitously gritty look at life in women's prison, or are a person who's skeptical that criminal rehabilitation programs can work, I can definitely recommend checking out this film.
there are many underrated movies out there, and 'Within These Walls' is one of them. despite a previous comment about 'homophobia' and giving this film one star, this is a rather good movie to watch. a dramatic portrayal of the inside of a women's prison and the character transformations that occur through an inmate rehab program, that trains dogs to assist the handicapped.truly an inspirational movie about the power of a bond between animal and human and how it can have an impact on the human soul and spirit. it's a strong movie, based on the life of Pauline Quinn, a nun who came from an abusive past, who found hope and purpose through the love of a dog. the strength and determination of Sister Pauline Quinn and the success of the dog training program, helped turn some inmates' lives around, a great achievement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I appreciated the shades of gray in this film's characters. The film doesn't try to hide the fact that they are capable of horrible acts. It just makes sure to show that they, under the right circumstances, are equally capable of kindness and devotion. The script makes an effort to show why the women committed the crimes for which they are imprisoned but does not suggest that they ought to be let off punishment. Unlike many prison films, "Within These Walls" acknowledges that while the inmates may be victims of circumstances themselves, their actions victimized others and continue to victimize others. There are only a couple of moments in which the film slides over into corn, and once or twice the script goes a little too far towards what I think of as New Age Bumpersticker language. But for the most part, "Within These Walls" avoids platitudes and preachiness. Ellen Burstyn is almost but not quite believable as a hardened lifelong criminal; I never managed to see her as a lifelong member of a seamy underclass. A less immaculate and highlighted hairstyle would have helped the realism a bit. Laura Dern is much less successful as Sister Pauline. I found it impossible to believe that she could found a successful prison rehabilitation program. It seemed to me that her character could barely dress herself in the morning, and I'm certain that a Dominican convent would have placed more restrictions on her behavior and time, if only to keep her from harm. A subplot involving Sister Pauline's child was poorly written and unbelievable. Overall, I give the film a 7 for the story and for the performances of Burstyn and the supporting actors.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While this film is not perfect, it is definitely a cut above the
majority of t.v. films, and many of the big budget films I have seen.
There are many positives, which I frankly did not expect: A good script; the dialogue is sensitively and intelligently written, the characters reveal themselves and their stories in a believable and natural way which engages your interest and sympathy. The acting is very good throughout, Laura Dern is very likable in her role, just about steering clear of goody-two-shoes mawkishness, difficult given the theme and subject of the film. Ellen Burstyn is very good, presenting a compelling, magnetic character that leads you through the film as you want to find out her story. The film weaves cleverly through the various stories of the women, without getting bogged down into too much detail. However, the viewer gets a glimpse of the often random and incidental (sometimes horrific) offences suffered, (in all kinds of relationships, from strangers, family and straight relationships, I detected no overt homophobia) and how these can be followed by tragic consequences of all kinds. The film is gripping and retains your interest all the way through.
The negatives: It was not a documentary; whilst it seemed a hard life, there was little depiction of the gritty realism of prison life, or hint of corruption or malpractice, however, this wasn't a film primarily about prison conditions. Miss Burstyn did look physically rather too elegantly groomed than you would have expected from her character. The film and characters were conventional and up-beat in that they fulfilled your expectations and hopes; the prison staff and authorities were morally good and well-intentioned. The main characters were ultimately all very sympathetic, morally reformed people (except for one who was then discarded). All the characters of the film were sorted into essentially "good" or "bad", which at times went against the theme of redemption embedded within the film. This raised some unanswered questions at the ending; who receives treatment/opportunity, and on what grounds? Also, at times the film played openly on your emotions; the illness of one of the dogs, the ultimate "role" of the authorities board.
Having said all that, for me the film has charm, and heart; it is honest to itself and sensitive in it's message: telling of the suffering endured by some women and their subsequent transgressions, and how it is possible and positive to find a way to transcend past experiences. While not startlingly original or outstanding this film is well worth a watch.
Could have been a better film if they had stayed with fact. The real story of these women is interesting, dramatic, and stories the disabled who received the dogs would make for a more human film. Professionals trained the inmates even though Sister Pauline's efforts made a difference.
This was one of those hokey, overbaked dramas meant to bring a tear to the eye. It just make mine want to close in a deep sleep. Not that it was a total boring loser, but the idea of a group of hardened criminals turning into loving, decent folks so quickly after contact with Rover was a tad hard to swallow. I don't doubt that the events were based on fact, I merely feel it was played out in an unbelievable and corny fashion.
The fact that a Lesbian was portrayed as the principal "bad-guy" is in poor taste and certainly inappropriate. It shows the continuance of mass-media homophobia. I am shocked that gifted actors such as Ellen Burstyn and Laura Dern would be willing to be in a film that portrayed their fellow females in such a degrading way. The fact that a prisoner is cruel to an animal is sufficient in itself to make her a bad person. Just adding the fact that this bad person is also a Lesbian bull duke on the make has nothing to do with the plot. This person could have been just a nasty Black if you want to take on another social inappropriate designation.
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