From the second I found out Steve Buscemi, the ultimate character actor, directed a prison drama with some seriously talented actors, and one of my personal favorites, Willem Dafoe, I was immediately interested. It is a dark and twisted tale that might not be as well-crafted or brilliant as films like The Shawshank Redemption, or as gritty as shows like Oz, but Animal Factory has its own merits that set it apart from the others.
Prison dramas have started to have the stigma of being disturbing films with explicit rape and major violence. Animal Factory doesn’t have any of that, save for a little violence. This film isn’t about hardened criminals who are out to cause trouble, nor is it about people begging that they are innocent. Edward Furlong’s character knows he is guilty and knows what he did wrong, and while he has trouble adjusting to prison, he tries to make his wrongs right again. Willem Dafoe gives one of his more quiet performances as the ultimate nice guy – we don’t know what he did to get thrown into prison, but having been there for close to two decades, it must have been something awful. He isn’t the all-knowing, wise prisoner that has become a staple in prison films – he is just a man who knows what he did wrong and is just sick and tired of this place, and will do anything to just get out of it, so following the rules and not causing trouble seems to be the best way to do so.
This film could have been really dark, but it is really, at the core, a hopeful and uplifting film. Yeah, a prison film is uplifting. It could just be a metaphor for our own struggles and troubles – our personal prisons – and how sometimes the only way to get out of it is to embrace the trash and go onto greener pastures.
Animal Factory may not be the greatest prison film ever, but it is an excellent film that boasts great performances and a really good directing effort from Steve Buscemi. A really good film and one worth watching.