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Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (2013)

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall is a moving cinema verite documentary that breaks through the walls of one of Americas oldest maximum security prisons to tell the story ... See full summary »


Edgar Barens

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »




Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall is a moving cinema verite documentary that breaks through the walls of one of Americas oldest maximum security prisons to tell the story of the final months in the life of a terminally ill prisoner and the hospice volunteers, they themselves prisoners, who care for him. The film draws from footage shot over a six-month period behind the walls of the Iowa State Penitentiary and provides a fascinating and often poignant account of how the hospice experience can profoundly touch even the forsaken lives of the incarcerated. Written by Anonymous

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A brutally honest and difficult film--but also an exceptional film.
1 February 2014 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to the local theater to see all the Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts. My good friend came with me and force once we were in agreement as to which shorts were strongest and weakest--which is a little unusual. While we agreed in the rankings of which films were best to least best, I think I ended up enjoying "Prison Terminal" a bit more than my friend. That's because I really, really respect a film that honestly and openly talks about death--and very few films do. It's not pretty but it's real and honest.

When the film begins, you learn a little about Jack Hall*. He was apparently a decorated soldier during WWII and a POW. However, a couple decades ago, he was convicted of murdering a drug dealer--the same dealer who sold his son drugs--the same son that soon killed himself. You could certainly understand the rage that led to the murder--but this isn't really the point of the film. The point is that now, into his 80s, Jack is still incarcerated and is nearing death. Surprisingly, he and the prison have allowed the filmmakers amazing access to him during these final days in the prison's hospice program--one of the few in any prison in this country (most prisoners normally just die in their cells or, perhaps, in the prison hospital). The film follows him during a period lasting a couple weeks--and is amazingly touching and sad. And, it's BRUTAL to watch--as you see the man gasping and choking for air as well as when he actually dies--you see it all. But it's also hopeful in some ways, as you see that most of the hospice folks are actually prison inmates volunteering--in order to make SOMETHING positive out of their wasted lives. And then there's Jack's other son--his story and his father are pretty amazing as you hear their stories. And, there's Jack's WWII experience, PTSD and alcoholism. In fact, there is enough to make several more shorts out of this one story.

Be sure to have a handkerchief or Kleenex nearby--you'll need them. The film is my vote for second best of the five nominees because it has so much to say, so many interpretations and doesn't try to sugar-coat things. It is what it is--the death of a man.

*As I watched, I noticed that there were apparently PREVIOUS incarcerations--well before the murder conviction. What these were, the film oddly never says. But when he's talking to another old timer in prison, they make mention of life in prison together back in the 1950s.

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