Mainstream prison flicks usually turn up the rebellious glamour of being locked up, but Steve Buscemi’s Animal Factory strips down life in prison to the meaty truth. Based on ex-convict Edward Bunker’s novel, Animal Factory drips with authenticity. The film focuses on the essentials of prison life: physical and mental survival, as well as the importance of keeping healthy friendships while in the can. It’s a simple character driven story that, by word of mouth from real life ex-convicts, truly captures what prison is like.
Buscemi shoots the film in a simple fashion, occasionally using rock instrumentals to amp up the scenes. He keeps the film grounded in reality, and sometimes you can feel the boredom, anguish and the slowly dying hope of the inmates. We are also able to see some inmate insider moves, as they are naturally incorporated into the film, such as the methods used to shank someone or using a toilet to communicate.
The cast is solid, with most fitting their roles quite well. Willem Dafoe, as Earl Copen, turns in a dedicated performance as the sharp battle-tested veteran. Copen does what he has to do to survive and nothing more, and posesses the intelligence to succeed, even if he had chosen the opposite path years ago. The supporting cast, including Danny Trejo and Mickey Rourke as a drag queen inmate, deliver interesting performances. Edward Furlong as Ron, the new fish in a sea of sharks, gives glimpses of his talent.
Animal Factory is a gritty look into what really goes on in prison, and it works for those that are interested in a genuine take of the subject matter.
Those who have never spent time in the slammer might not appreciate this film as much as those who have. Most of us are used to the typical Hollywood prison films, and some are fantastic like Shawshank Redemption, but this is the real deal. The biggest obstacle is not expecting the feel of a typical prison film.
Edward Furlong ranges from pretty good to lazy in this film, as it seems that he’s coasting at times. Furlong never really matches the performance of Dafoe, diluting the chemistry between the two characters.
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