Animal Factory
3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
animal factory With his second feature as a director, Buscemi steers clear of most prison-movie cliches, assembling a low-key drama rather than a high-octane thriller. Ron (Furlong) is a young man given hard time for marijuana possession, trying to be tough in a very grim penitentiary. He soon locates the prison community lynchpin, Earl (Dafoe), and befriends him in an effort to survive. Their growing friendship helps both to cope with pressures inside--sudden violence, brutal discipline, parole hearings, changing liaisons and the continual almost overpowering threat of rape. Eventually, they hatch an escape plan.

There's a gentle authenticity to the film that helps us cope with the rather over-familiar setting and the lack of much heightened prison grit or intense bursts of energy (this certainly isn't Oz!). It's almost like a stage play, with its use of prison lingo that's still intelligible, the muted on-screen violence and the overall funny-creepy tone. Horror is a constant threat in both the script and direction, and there's a real growing sense of dread as events progress and we wonder what might happen to these men. Both Furlong and Dafoe deliver strong, understated performances, as do most of the supporting performers (such as Buscemi as a prison official, Heard as Ron's helpless father), while others take the opportunity to really chew on the scenery (Arnold as a sleazy stalker, Rourke as Ron's cross-dressing cellmate). The film feels like a 1970s prison film with its grainy images, straightforward direction, jazzy score (by John Lurie) and the standard plot. But it's efficiently made, and it's nice to see a prison film centre a core friendship rather than all the sensational stuff we usually have to wade through.

cert 15 adult themes, language, violence 9.May.03

dir Steve Buscemi
scr Edward Bunker
with Edward Furlong, Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, Tom Arnold, Mickey Rourke, Steve Buscemi, John Heard, Seymour Cassel, Jake La Botz, Mark Webber, Mark Engelhardt, Edward Bunker
release US 13.Oct.00; UK 4.Jul.03
00/US 1h34

The rookie and the veteran. Ron and Earl (Furlong and Dafoe) cope with life behind bars...

furlong dafoe buscemi
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall