Criminally underrated, Against The Wall is one of the best prison movies I have ever seen. I knew nothing about the events it portrays and I recommend the same. I mean, just don’t look up what happened and let the movie take you on this wild journey. Now, the story is told mostly through the eyes of one guard and one inmate with a couple of very memorable supporting characters. This made the movie more relatable as you could identify with our Average Joe guard. Although I think they could’ve done this in a much better way, shifting the focus to the system of values.
For a movie you never heard of, Against The Wall features one hell of a cast. However, the reason why I decided to check it out is the director, John Frankenheimer. During the sixties, he was behind a lot of movies dealing with various social issues. Now, back to the cast led by charismatic Kyle MacLachlan. Samuel L. Jackson gave a very simmering and subdued performance but I think that Clarence Williams III stole the show here as Chaka. Do check him out in another nineties classic In Too Deep to see his full range.
And while the focus is on the characters, Against The Wall is actually an indictment of the American prison system. A system that only got worse and worse despite the somewhat improved conditions. It also shows just how different time this was, a sort of a wild west where anything goes. I won’t go into details as to what happens in the movie too much because I want you to have the same experience I did.
Meet Michael Smith, a young guy whose wife just found out she’s pregnant. This put pressure on Michael to find a steady source of income. So he decides to go into the family business and become a guard at the Attica prison. His father worked there and his uncle is still on the staff. The first few days were a bit bumpy but the worst is yet to come.
Brutal and suspenseful, Against The Wall is a gripping thriller with a plot that only life could write. I wouldn’t consider it a television movie as it’s just so damn well-crafted. After all, the quality of some of these movies is truly top-notch. Just look at The Beast of War, another great made-for-tv movie. If you want to learn more about the Attica Prison Riot, do check out the new Showtime documentary Attica, released in 2021. And if you’re looking for similar movies, take a look at our selection of Prison Movies.
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writer: Ron Hutchinson
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Samuel L. Jackson, Clarence Williams III, Frederic Forrest, Harry Dean Stanton
Fun Facts: Shot at the closed Tennessee state main prison, in service from 1898 to 1992.