Animal Factory

Dir: Steve Buscemi, 2000. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke. Drama.
Animal Factory

Animal Factory is the story of a young man (Furlong) who gets prosecuted for drug dealing. He is sent to a maximum-security prison, putting his life and soul at stake.

Edward Bunker and John Steppling’s screenplay is raw to the bone writing—not trying to spice up the dialogue, rather providing a very realistic cadence to the way these prisoners speak and interact. The screenplay is based on Bunker’s novel, which was inspired by his own stints in the penitentiary. Modern audiences mostly know the author as “Mr. Blue” in Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs.

Steve Buscemi (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) is mainly known as a character actor, but after making his directing debut with Trees Lounge, he has aptly helmed some good cable television projects (Sopranos, Oz)— proving to be as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it.

Phil Parmit’s cinematography is shot in highly docudrama style, embedding the audience inside the cage with these felons. With every step they take, every shank they deliver, the viewer is right there in the action, to the point of feeling confined.

Edward Furlong (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) plays “Ron Decker”—a privileged young man from a good background who has the book thrown at him after being busted for marijuana dealing. Furlong does a good job as the “heart” of the film.

As “Earl Copen,” Willem Dafoe (The Last Temptation of Christ) is given one of the best characters in his long and distinguished career. Earl has been locked away for so long he practically runs the place, referring to it as “my prison.” When the young Decker finds himself on his way to be gang-assaulted, the old con takes him under his wing, giving him a father figure to learn from.

Danny Trejo (Heat) plays his typical hard skinned criminal character, but with a bit more humanity than we’re used to from him, as Earl’s best buddy in the joint.

Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) is stellar as Decker’s cellmate—a cross-dressing, make up wearing prison hag who does “her” best to look out for his little friend. For an actor who more often than not plays “tough guys,” Rourke’s take on “Jan the Actress” is without reserve and a really fun turn to watch.

The most surprising casting in this film may come from Tom Arnold (True Lies) who plays a rapist who takes a destructive liking to the young protagonist and suffers the brutal consequences.

With its harsh and unforgiving reality, Animal Factory is a prison film more in the vein of Midnight Express or American Me, than an uplifting story of human survival ala The Shawshank Redemption. But if you don’t mind some edge, it’s definitely worth taking a look at.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 21, 2009 1:31pm
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