'Animal Factory: Special Edition'
(Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, John Heard, Steve Buscemi, et al / Blu-ray+DVD / R / (1982) 2017 / VCI Entertainment - MVD Visual)
Overview: A young man (Edward Furlong) goes to prison and a tough, older convict (Willem Dafoe) takes him under his wing as a mentor.
Blu-ray Verdict: Steve Buscemi's prison flick 'Animal Factory' is oddly upbeat and yet shallow for the writer-director of the much better 'Trees Lounge.'
We have a young drug war convict thrown to the wolves, but where is he thrown? This is prison as a place where, if he slinks off whenever trouble starts, a con can avoid most of the worst and shoot up with his pals regularly ... sometimes, courtesy of a kindly prison official!
It's the joint as a center of homosexual rape, unless you happen to be doe-eyed, red-lipped 21-year old Edward Furlong, in which case you'll receive all the chaste fatherly ministrations of the skinhead bad ass who happens to run your block and desires not your ass but the preservation of your dignity. An intellectual too, he'll even take an interest in your reading, steering you clear of an author who is a known "police state bitch".
In my humble opinion, these Spielbergian dimensions sit uneasily, to say the least, with the movie's cultivation of a hard edge and undermine what might have been a more honest, less sentimental view of survival.
Verité aside, this wish-fulfillment stuff is watchable for Willem Defoe's determined attempt to wrench more depth from his character than the script can provide. We never find out why such a feared bad ass is suddenly so caring, and what we witness isn't enough to go on to supply our own convincing answer.
Then there is the complete lack of chemistry between the principals; Edward Furlong's rather bland, disaffected character hardly seems compelling enough to risk Defoe's rep or life over. We're hammered thematically with the message that caring means vulnerability, but even teen love stories can tell us that. What's more critical to this context, yet never addressed, is: why bother?
Then there's the real crime. At this moment in U.S. history our prisons are run by private companies who profit blithely from the violence boiling within; outside these pens, the drug war consumes billions of dollars in a fruitless quest.
Although it is his premise, Buscemi has nothing to say about this; nothing. In fact, he has less than nothing to say, since his film's impossible sentimentality mocks the reality of the real-life Furlongs thrown daily to real-life wolves.
Yes, it's all beautifully art directed, the cell blocks washed out in harsh institutional light. Mickey Rourke's minor role as a drag queen is weirdly moving, and Tom Arnold's brief appearance as a sexual psychopath has some punch. The soundtrack by John Lurie is edgy and interesting. Just don't come looking for any narrative sense, believable motivation, or much social awareness. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1:85.1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition digital transfer
Lossless original 2.0 stereo audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Interview with critic Barry Forshaw covering Eddie Bunker's varied career
Audio Commentary by novelist/co-writer/actor Eddie Bunker and co-producer/actor Danny Trejo
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips
'Animal Factory: Special Edition' [Blu-ray] will be made available to purchase on November 28th, 2017.
'Animal Factory: Special Edition' [Blu-ray] Purchase Link
'Animal Factory' - Trailer