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Brubaker - Idealism vs reality in this grim prison drama,
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This review is from: Brubaker  [DVD] (DVD)Based on a true story, Brubaker is a superior prison drama that should be in every film lover's collection. Henry Brubaker is an idealistic new prison warden, who has been sent to Wakefield prison farm with reform in mind. He takes the unusual step of entering the prison as an inmate, to get a real view of what is going on. The first half hour of the film, before his dramatic revelation, is a grim and unflinching look at the worst of humanity as he observes the corruption, the squalor, the depraved behaviour, the casual violence that the prisoners both endure and mete out. When he takes over as Governor (following a classic scene with Morgan Freeman, 15 years before he won worldwide recognition as Red in his other great prison film, The Shawshank Redemption) he starts to fight back, trying to stop the corruption that leaves the prisoners starving, in rags and in filth. Fighting wardens and inmates who are up to their necks in graft, and governors and businessmen who profit from the slave labour, he soon makes enemies. It is when he finds unmarked graves and starts to uncover even more serious crimes that his position becomes difficult, and eventually the politicians find enough ammunition to fire him before he can make their jobs unsafe.
Redford is perfectly cast as the energetic and idealistic Brubaker, genuinely horrified at what he sees and full of concern for his fellow human beings. For me it counts as one of his best films. The script writer (who was nominated for an Oscar) and director produce a stygian vision of life in the prison, made all the more disturbing by the realisation that these conditions are real, and people are forced to live in this degradation. Redford's Brubaker is a gleaming shaft of light in this darkness as he looks on with concern and revulsion. And while his idealism might have been beaten by the vested interests in the short term, in the long term the end credits show how he was the catalyst that actually allowed serious reform to occur years later.
Also of note is Morgan Freeman, who gets to sing, and Yaphett Koto, an actor not seen often enough in big films, as the head trusty.
Based on a true story, this is a must see film fives stars.