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2.9 out of 5 stars
Animal Factory [DVD] [2003]
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 29 February 2004
Prison dramas bear more than a passing resemblance to their submarine counterparts, although without, usually, the sense of impending doom, but invariably, they have the same claustrophobic possibilities as well as a neatly cicumscribed environment for the plot to play out.
Such is the scene for Animal Factory, which reminds me rather too much perhaps of Tom Selleck's "An Innocent Man", with an extra sprinkling of seriousness and good intentions. To some extent, Animal Factory transcends the superficial aspects of imprisonment, and concentrates instead on the relationship between Willem Dafoe and Edward Furlong; sounds dubious? Well, it is, and much of the movie focusses on the borderline inappropriate obsessions of Dafoe's character, and his unrealised motivations. Ultimately, however, the relationship turns out to centre on protectiveness and more positive values and it underlines a valiant attempt to highlight the transcendence of the human spirit in difficult and uncomfortable circumstances.
There were some good performances in this movie, with Dafoe in particularly good form, portraying as he does, a streak of ambiguous goodwill in an otherwise hard-bitten, cynical and uncompromising personality. Look out also for a superb cameo from the toothless Mickey Rourke as a sweet natured tranny, who outlines his unfulfilled dreams in his cell, providing a hint of security in an otherwise insecure world.
When all is said and done, however, this movie somewhat misses the mark, despite several good performances and a thoughtful style it fails to grab hold of you and the direction seemed to me at least, to be a bit woolly and uncertain in places, especially considering what it appeared to be trying to achieve. Despite this, the movie is competent in all areas, but not outstanding in any, so whilst it's worth a watch, don't expect too much or you might just be disappointed.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2003
Based on Edward Bunker's gloriously gritty novel about his experiences in prison, Edward Furlong stars as Ron Decker, a wayward 21 year old from a respectable family, imprisoned for dealing marijuana. With election year looming, Decker has been rejected for rehab and placed in an adult prison (awash with customary stabbings, strikes, rapes and drug trafficking) to await sentence. Being of callow, youthful appearance, he fears the attentions of the sex-starved inmates and befriends Earl Copan (Dafoe), an exceptionally bright, self-possessed man on an 18-year sentence, who seems to have the rest of the jail under his thumb – inmates and officers alike. Initially approaching Copan to look at his case for him (Copan works in the prison office and regularly produces/forges psychiatric reports and writes speeches on penal reform for the prison governors), the more experienced man soon has Decker completely under his wing. From an early scene where a strung-out-on-smack Copan lovingly eyes the edgy Decker as a gay band entertain the inmates, the older man’s desire for the beautiful youth is tangible. At one point he admits he probably wouldn’t be helping out if the boy were ugly, but that ‘that’ is his problem. He seems to almost love Decker too much to take it any further. That and the knowledge that his reputation as a hard man would be shattered if his true feelings became known. But despite faux gangbangs, and stolen glances in the shower, Copan’s affection for the boy transcends sex and remains, occasionally frustratingly, ambiguous. This restraint is beautifully played against the relationship between Decker and his cell mate, Jan (Mickey Rourke, practically unrecognisable, in his best form in years), the gloriously gentle and dreamy transvestite, who keeps up his spirit amidst fantasies about visiting Paris, or being reincarnated as the girl next door. Despite Jan making no bones about his desire for Decker, the viewer knows, despite Decker’s doubts, that he is just a gentle old tranny who is glad to have something beautiful around such an ugly environment. For this reason, it is only in the scenes between Decker and Jan where there is no sense of the menace that permeates the rest of the film. We feel safe when Jan is around, even if he does make Decker edgy! Ed Bunker, whose novel, ‘Animal Factory’ the film is based on has a fine pedigree in this genre. Former resident of the FBI’s most wanted list, Bunker is now one of the US’s most respected crime writers, forging out a reputation for hard, earthy, fiction that draws favourable comparisons with Elmore Leonard. His role in Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ helped assure his current cult status. Director and co-producer, Steve Buscemi, never fails to impress with his pared, sensitive direction. The film avoids the easy melodrama of its most obvious comparison, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and thus manages never to fall into prison/mentor drama cliché. Instead, it focuses on the finer aspects of masculinity, gender, friendship and love. The casting is exemplary. Edward Furlong’s beautiful boyish face conveys a perfect mix of innocence and dark-eyed dissipation. Dafoe, surely one of the versatile actors in the US today, gives a quietly threatening but enticing performance as the long-timer, Copan, which is so utterly convincing it is hard to think of any other actor who could have carried the role off quite so effectively. A talent like Dafoe’s can hide in a corner but still fill a whole screen. He is quite simply awesome. Roseanne’s ex, Tom Arnold (as the aptly named, Buck Rowan) is perfectly slimy as the predatory white trash paedo who has taken an unsavoury shine to the boy. The scene where he licks his finger, before ramming it up young Decker’s arse really makes the flesh crawl. Amidst all this heady onscreen talent though, it is Mickey Rourke’s aforementioned performance as tranny cellmate, Jan that really lingers. Please, can casting directors take note of this tour de force (his best role since his early glory in ‘Rumblefish’ and ‘Body Heat) and allow him back into mainstream cinema with some suitably meaty roles. A refreshingly intelligent twist on the prison drama genre, and a tribute to Buscemi, whose inherent respect amongst the seasoned cast led them to get involved on minimum pay, the shoot lasting a mere 29 days. No wonder Hollywood’s finest are queuing up to work with this unique and insightful director/actor
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Based on Edward Bunkers(Who has a small cameo role ) book of the same name The Animal Factory is a prison drama, and a surprisingly restrained one at that, but it's also a rites of passage tale as Ron (Edward Furlong) forms a surrogate father/son relationship with long-timer and king of his wing Earl (Willem Defoe)
As I've intimated the most noticeable thing about this movie is how subtle and moderate it is when compared to some of the other prison based films. Compared to "Ghosts of the Civil Dead" or even "The ShawShank Redemption" this is kids stuff. There is violence but most of the scenes are over in a flash and the subject of male rape is hinted at broadly rather than confronted head on.This is a film more concerned about the mental torment of incarceration than the physical ones.
It's still an engrossing movie though, directed in a meretricious manner by Steve Buscemi, and played with admirable restraint by the entire cast of which Defoe is as usual excellent while Furlong is believably gauche as the new inmate. Mickey Rourke has a bizarre small role as Furlongs transvestite cell mate. The one nagging element about the film is that Defoe's character seems way too decent a human being to be as high in the prison hierarchy as he is, though his intelligent exploitation of the system lends him extra credibility.
The only reason this movie doesn't earn full marks is because I doubt it will reward repeat viewings but as a one off adult drama it's one of the best I've seen in a while.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2008
Not oscar worthy, but a solid film from actor turned director Steve Buschemi. I have always enjoyed his performances in movies, usaully in supporting roles or cameos with the emphasis on comic relief (Donny in The Big Lebowski the finest) so was a little surprised when I realised he directed this gritty prison flick. You can tell from the onset that they didn't have the biggest of budgets to work with, but recruiting the always excellent Willem Defoe as the shaven headed 'ruler' of the prison makes this otherwise B movie worth watching. Supported by the evergreen Edward Furlong (doesn't look a day older since T2, but he must be in his 30's!) the leads give strong performances and there are a lot of familier faces within the cast - obviously down to the directors Hollywood connections. The story plods along with the odd violent or graphic incident and does manage to keep your attention till the somewhat predicable ending. I did however find myself feeling a little emotion towards some of the characters so they managed to do their jobs effectivly. Solid prison film, but not in the same league as Shawshank.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The prison genre of film has a very chequered history, and the number of films are many, very much so, both good and bad. It has gotten to the stage where in this day and age we yearn and need more from our prison based films, something more substantial away from rape and violence, away from father figures, or of redemption and friendship bonds. Unfortunately Animal Factory relies on all the clichés of the genre to tell its tale, which is actually at odds with how good a film it is. Deftly performed by the principal cast members, mounted with a keen eye by director Steve Buscemi, and played with an authentic vibe that lures you in and keeps you hooked, but there is unfortunately nothing remotely new here. However, if you are not over familiar with the prison based arc of cinema? Then this delivers rewards, and such is the quality of production, it doesn't deserve to be marked down. 7/10
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(THE FILM)
((On the Inside the Rules Are Brutal And the Stakes Are High))
When first time felon Ron Decker (Edward Furlong; American History X) is sentenced to two years in a decaying prison, he is quickly introduced to a world there violence is the only way of life. After witnessing a riot, Ron is soon taken under the wing of Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe; Platoon,), a veteran convict who has manipulated the system to his every advantage, earning the respect of the toughest cons and the favor of the crooked guards. But sometimes even respect in a community of convicts can hold you prisoner. Now, Ron will soon discover that life in the Animal Factory is not about rehabilitation, it's about survival.
WHAT CAN I SAY?
Directed by Steve Buchemi(,Resovoir Dogs) and written by Eddie Bunker(Resevoir Dogs)
this is one off the few prison movie that in no way glorifies prison life.
This movie makes it very clear that prison is a dark place and the only people that dwell their are losers not winners There is no good and bad in this prison just those who will make it and those who won't.
this film will make you think that being locked up is not cool and its not fun and it is not something that anyone should aspire to.

Willam DeFoe is brilliant as usual and The chemistry between Dafoe and Furlong is very good but Mickey Rourke stole the show as a drag queen. One of his best performances
(Animal Factory)it is a film Where They Put the Human Waste it is disturbing very dark and gritty in portraying prison life. Violent, unnerving, shocking at times but still it holds a message that we house these people in prisons with poor quality with the real animals. Young offenders put in with experienced and hardened prisoners who manipulate them.
An excellent character-driven film and very underrated prison drama
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
contary to other reviews i actually found this film to be an individual production which deals with real prison life and the friends and enemies that you are capable of making or loosing. Edward Furlong does his usual part of panic striken teenager (even though he is in his twenties)while William DeFoe produces his icy exterior which has a power over the other prisoners. A Good Film.
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on 6 April 2014
And isn't that what you want from a prison movie? The acting is believable (Dafoe in particular stands out as the emotionless anti-hero) and the casting well conceived. The sets look and smell like prison. The direction pragmatic and ego-free. A satisfying and grimy film.
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on 17 May 2015
Not as violent as I had hoped but a good enjoyable film with the kid from terminator as a young adult .
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 December 2008
.........but you won't be blown away either.

Good to see a film where it doesn't all work out as you expect it to and everything doesn't always come up roses.

If I could have understood a bit more of what was being said, it might have scraped a 4 star review.
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