Plot: What’s it about?
After being sentenced on a narcotics charge, Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) is sent off to a real prison and since he comes from a posh family, his life is about to change in serious ways. Once there, he makes a few small connections and manages to meet Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), who everyone seems to know. Copen is the kind of convict that can score anything, but you have to know him and be on his good side, which Decker isn’t, at least not yet. But after Decker serves as lookout for Copen’s friends and keeps his mouth shut when questioned by the guards, Copen takes him in and shows him the ropes. Soon enough, Decker is getting all sorts of favors and even moves to Copen’s cell block, leaving behind his old cellmate, Jan (Mickey Rourke). As time passes, the two become good friends and when Copen has the chance, he tries to help out Decker, even getting him information that could help him get out. But when Decker’s case is denied and Copen is almost moved to another prison, the two begin to formulate another plan, this one in the vein of escape…
When this disc arrived I wasn’t sure what to expect, but since I like prison movies and this one had a good cast, I figured it was worth a shot. I always like to see Willem Dafoe in action and with Danny Trejo, Tom Arnold, Mickey Rourke, Edward Furlong, and others on deck also, I was looking forward to giving this disc a spin. In the end, the cast doesn’t disappoint and thanks to some solid writing, this one avoids falling into the depths of prison flick cliches. As is the case with any prison film, Animal Factory has some recycled themes, but I found it to be very entertaining and powerful. I think the material (written by Edward Bunker, who has served real prison time) could have used a little shine work at times, but the superb cast elevates it a lot and that helps to keep the movie out of mediocre status. Some of the dialogue is excellent and the characters, even the smaller ones, seem to be well fleshed out and that adds depth to the movie. I recommend this film as a rental to fans of prison films, but anyone looking for a solid flick should give this one a chance. Columbia/Tristar has issued a nice disc also, which means a purchase isn’t a bad idea either.
This film might have been a low profile one, but it sure attracted some great performers, led by Willem Dafoe. I’ve always liked Dafoe’s work and even seek out his small roles, so I was pleased to see with a sizable character here. With his head clean shaven, Dafoe strikes a rather eerie pose, but his character is well drafted and played to utter perfection. In both reserved and intense moments, Dafoe seems to always have a handle on the role, which means the character is consistent and believable. I knew Dafoe would be good here, but I was surprised at just how good, this is one of his finer more recent roles, at least in my mind. You can also see Dafoe in such pictures as The English Patient, The Last Temptation Of Christ, New Rose Hotel, Platoon, and American Psycho. The cast also includes Edward Furlong (Pecker, American History X), Danny Trejo (Con Air, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn), Mickey Rourke (Barfly, 9 1/2 Weeks), John Heard (Home Alone, Desert Blue), Tom Arnold (The Stupids, True Lies), and Seymour Cassel (Rushmore, Dick Tracy). The director here is Steve Buscemi, who is better known his acting work (Armageddon, Reservoir Dogs) and also has a small part in this film.
Video: How does it look?
Animal Factory is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Given the film’s low budget and somewhat rushed nature, this is an excellent visual presentation, although some flaws do surface in the end. I saw some grain at times and a few scenes have poor lighting, but this transfer works hard to present the film in fine form. The colors have a natural scope to them and look solid, no evidence of bleeds and flesh tones also come off well. As I said, the contrast is a little dark at times, but the detail is still nice and no real issues crop up here. This is a fine presentation and one fans will appreciate, that’s for sure.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a good one, with a nice amount of surround use in the end. Of course, this mix isn’t as powerful as one for a full on action film would be, but it still packs a good punch overall. John Lurie’s music comes through well here, although I think it is mixed in a little too loud at times. The sound effects range from very subtle to more obvious and even though never booming, the surrounds are well used and you will notice them. The dialogue is smooth also, no traces of volume or clarity issues with this track. This disc also includes 2.0 surround tracks in English and French, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes some talent files, the film’s trailer, and a series of interviews, which feature Steve Buscemi, Mickey Rourke, Edward Furlong, and Willem Dafoe. These are rather short interviews overall, but contain some good information and are well worth a look, if you ask me. The final supplement is an audio commentary track with actor/producer Danny Trejo and writer/producer Edward Bunker, who have a lot to talk about with this one. The topics covered include the problems they faced during the production, where certain scenes were shot and why, and of course, some real life prison stories, which are welcome. In the end, a really solid commentary track, though I wish director Steve Buscemi could have been involved.