Director: Rick Rosenthal.
Starring.Dean Penn, Esai Morales, Clancy Brown, Ally Sheedy, Eric Gurry, Reni Santoni, Robert Lee Rush. USA. 2h 3m.
This gritty coming of age movie, set in a juvenile detention centre was an epic leap of faith, with several of the main characters having their debut in what is seen as a breakthrough piece. After his directorial debut Halloween II (1981) he got stuck into 4 episodes of Darkroom then onto this game changer,launching the career of Sean Penn and Clancy Brown among others.
Penn plays Mickey O’Brien, a 16 year old Irish American hoodlum from Chicago whose petty crimes aren’t enough, he’s dreaming of being a big player he wants recognition and some money to settle down with, he arranges a heist with his best friend (Alan Ruck) but things go terribly wrong, his friend ends up dead along side the 8 year old brother of his Puerto Rican arch rival Paco Moreno (Moraines). Micky is placed in Rainford Juvenile Correctional Facility, after a scathing report from his Judge.
The facility barely runs with any proper organisation, most of the guards are there just to make sure no one dies but law and order is partly run by two sadistic brawny “kids”, a hard ass African American Warren “Tweet” Jerome (Rush) and his henchmen “Viking” Lofgren (Brown). It was really interesting to see him on the other side of the bars after so many years of watching him in Shawshank Redemption, but ultimately he’s still playing the same role, the muscle for a madman.
Rosenthal seems driven to make the point that not every bad kid is a lost cause, the honour code of criminal underworld is pretty choppy however, and these boys are still cutting their wings. The point of redemption comes when Mickey is really confronted with the error of his ways, after making friends with his Jewish cellmate Horowitz (Gurry), who’s possibly one of the more interesting characters who’s terrorist activities have landed him inside but he displays a cruel and sadistic side but otherwise is totally lovely. Micky just starts to get into his own gear taking over as top dog in the centre when his world is turned upside down yet again and he’s soon face to face with his rival Paco. From the raw street to the dark hell of the prison cells the need to exert one’s dominance and be an alpha male just won’t be quelled.
There’s a dose of comedy pranks and hijinks in between the raping and beating, but it’s clear that this is no place for boys to grow up into men, the only prison guard who isn’t just there as a zoo keeper waiting for his next pay cheque is the exceptional Raymond Herrera (Santoni) a former gang member who is active in trying help them turn their lives around, especially Mick as he can see some morals and potential in the young man.
The production is really impressive and there’s a lot of tangible drama to get involved with, the only let down was the standard pack of bruises and cuts used whenever there was an altercation. But is this just another prison drama, for a while it does feel that way, but then the movie starts to break away probing more questions about life in general and how these boys ended up here, until Paco’s arrival then it’s just a big countdown to a big fight, tit for tat skirmishes that are aimed to set up a Rocky 5 street fight and we know what will happen but we just can’t wait to see the tables get righted and a bloody show down, all for the sake of making things right? The film leaves us with a strange sense of justice, much like a certain match in Gladiator a new hero is born.
R – Shawshank Redemption (1994), Scum (1979), Dogpound (2010)
L – Inside – 25 awesome prison flicks
A – What I learnt from prison, from the movies..
5s – Sean Penn, Rick Rosenthal