Blu-Ray Review: Animal Factory

Animal Factory_AV115Way back around in oh, 2000 or 2001, I was working in a small independent game shop in NYC when in walks Edward Furlong wearing dark sunglasses with some woman I didn’t recognize in tow. I think he popped in to get away from a few fans who recognized him on the street (this sort of celebrity sighting thing happened a lot on St. Mark’s Place) and if I’m not mistaken, I think one or two other people in the shop knew who he was within a few seconds of him popping in.

Long story short, he hung out for a few minutes and didn’t say much (and I don’t recall if he bought anything), but he eventually left, leaving his sunglasses behind. I do believe my boss ended up keeping them after a few days when they weren’t reclaimed. Anyway, that’s the shortest celebrity story I know, but I have a few more that may pop up if and when the time comes. Living in this city, one tends to stumble into the occasional interaction that’s more than the usual fan on the prowl experience. Oh yeah, we’re supposed to be doing a movie review now, right?  Let me get my review hat on. A minute, please… there we go.

Steve Buscemi’s Animal Factory is a pretty darn good prison flick based on the Eddie Bunker novel and yep, the Arrow restoration is pretty solid overall. It features Furlong, along with Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, an unrecognizable Mickey Rourke and a few other surprises (for example, Tom Arnold in a somewhat short cameo). Furlong plays young Ron Decker who ends up getting 10 years on a drug conviction. He ends up meeting with Earl Copen (Dafoe), a long time convict who decides to keep Decker close and under his protection for a few reasons (and not the ones you might be thinking, you dirty birds). While Ron is seemingly safe from harm, he ends up getting on the bad sides of a few other cons as well as some prison officials and you get a pretty impressive mix of drama and violence with plenty of tension as the glue holding things together.

(Thanks, Edward Furlong!)

 

Given the semi-autobiographical nature of the source material, this one’s a lot more ‘realistic’ than Bunker’s co-writing work on Runaway Train (which also just so happens to feature Trejo and Bunker in small supporting roles), another great film you should check out if you’ve never seen it previously. Both films feature prison breaks, but the one here is less fantastic (or a lot more plausible) and doesn’t occur until the ending (and this really isn’t a spoiler because it’s something that’s discussed as the film plays out). That said, that escape plan is interesting in that “you probably don’t want to actually try this if you want to get out of jail free” manner.

This isn’t a “prison” movie like The Shawshank Redemption where you get those happy-go-lucky gritty guys to root for or a “prison” movie in the Penitentiary vein where it’s all pure hyper-crazy psuedo-reality TV on crack (although there’s good in both of those flicks). What you get is a mostly realistic (yet still somewhat embellished) tale of a kid trying to make the best of a bad situation up until the point where he’s freed by let’s just say some not so legal means. One of the more amusing things comes from watching the film a second with the commentary track provided by Eddie Bunker and Danny Trejo because of their takes on actual prison life versus what you see on screen here and elsewhere. They do like Buscemi as a director quite a lot, although Bunker seemed to have felt Furlong could have played his part with a harder edge. I thought he did fine, by the way.

I’m not sure many people saw this one when it was released back in 2000, but it’s definitely worth a look if you’re keen on expanding your library of “Well, here’s one more reason to stay the hell out of jail!” flicks. Granted, in this day and age, you’d probably want to also recommend this to selected folks in selected jobs where they seem to think they’re immune from any persecution. But let’s not discuss that particular runaway train until the proper moment, okay?

Score:  B (80%)

-GW

Review disc provided by the publisher

 

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