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dir Trevor White
scr Lane Shadgett, Trevor White
prd Scott Mednick, Maria Norman, Wayne Rogers, Steven P Saeta, Galen Walker, Tim White
with Spencer Lofranco, Mary-Louise Parker, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Taissa Farmiga, Michael Trotter, Rosa Salazar, Ben Rosenfield, Jimmy 'Taboo' Gomez, Aaron Opara, Keon Clayton, Kellyn Rogers
release US 17.Jan.14
What happens in prison...: Gomez and Lofranco
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
This intriguing, darkly well-made true drama is warm and human, but is undermined by an overfamiliar tone that leaves it feeling like a timid TV movie. Gritty edges are softened in every scene, while prison-movie cliches and ramped-up melodrama further distance us from the story.
At 14, James (Lofranco) is having trouble settling into a new school and doesn't seem interested in trying. Abused as a child, he's had a violent criminal record since age 6. Despite his caring mother (Parker), he falls in with bad kids Crystal and Manny (Salazar and Opara), who introduce him to gangster-dealer Roc (Trotter). Clearly James would rather live this violent life than go to school. Then as he begins working for Roc, narrowly avoiding death and arrest, he falls for local shop girl Sarah (Farmiga).
James decides to do one last job for Roc before going straight for Sarah. Not only is this the most overused plot point in movies, but the filmmakers give away what happens by intercutting the story with James' prison experience three years later, picking fights before he's even off the bus, squaring up against weaselly warden Falton (Woods), bristling against guru-like inmate Conrad (Rhames), helping a tragic newbie (Rosenfield) and refusing to snitch against his vilest enemy (Gomez).
While it's sharply shot and edited, with sensitive acting, there isn't a single moment we haven't seen in a better film. Rhames' character is especially Shawshank-like, complete with his Brazilian beach obsession. Director White strains to evoke street-smarts then reveals the artificiality by, for example, having inmates showering/brawling while wearing white, dry boxers. And the prison code of honour seems to exist only because the screenplay insists on it, not because of any character motivation.
Even if the relationships ring false, there are strong themes that make the film worth a look, most notably in the way kids are labeled as "bad" and can do virtually nothing to turn that around. James isn't stupid; he just makes terrible decisions. And the odd structure removes tension by telling us that he'll end up behind bars, leaving the other strand as mere backstory. So in the end, despite an impassioned "what I learned" speech to the parole board, we wonder if he can go straight even if he wants to.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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