Cleverly avoiding melodrama, Animal Factory is a gritty and authentic prison movie. It follows a young guy who ends up behind bars where he forms a friendship with an older prisoner. Movies set inside a prison are always inherently interesting. The closed environment, explosive and colorful characters, and brutal hierarchy are the elements that epitomize this setting. Moreover, if you would like to ponder about our social structure and the way this world works, prison is a great place to start. It’s easy to make analogies and develop theories with a limited number of elements.
When you think about it, Animal Factory is a fitting title for a movie set in prison. Especially when you realize that the return rates, as well as repeat offenders rates, are soaring high. I mean, you will hear a lot of stories where career criminals talk about how they upped their crime game in prison. If they didn’t know how to launder money or steal, they’re going to learn now.
Based on the novel of the same name by Eddie Bunker, this is above all a realistic movie. Directed by none other than Steve Fucking Buscemi and starring William Dafoe and Edward Furlong, the crew involved in this movie is just amazing. And I should also mention they’re helped by a series of tough guys like Danny Trejo and Mickey Rourke. I just wish the cinematography was better because the movie looks pretty cheap.
Ron Decker, a young kid sentenced for dealing marijuana winds up in a San Quentin prison. Shy, weak, and with a pretty face, he’s the perfect prey for other inmates. And you know what that means. However, Earl, one of the old guard will take him under his wing. Now, Ron must learn how things work in this harsh and unforgiving place.
An intense and very emotional relationship between the boy and his mentor played masterfully by Willem Dafoe is one of the highlights of Animal Factory. This is not some flashy thriller or drama with classically set up big scenes, but a low-key slow-burner. A slow-burner where you will find those breaking moments in a single look or a hand gesture. Also, I loved the storytelling here with very deliberate pacing focusing exactly on those events.
Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies, I recommend Blood In, Blood Out. However, Son of a Gun might be a better fit since it also features a relationship between younger and older prisoners. Also, I should not forget to mention A Prophet, a French thriller with a much meaner atmosphere.
Director: Steve Buscemi
Writers: Edward Bunker, John Steppling
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, Chris Bauer
Fun Facts: Actual convicts can be seen in most of the scenes as they were hired as extras.