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Animal Factory (2000)

  Directed by: Steve Buscemi
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong
Links: Animal Factory on the IMDb, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 6.33 (3 ratings)
nofreelist.com Ranking: Ranked 128th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Animal Factory (2000) is also mentioned in em_fiction's review of Wonderland (2003).

"An awkward hodge-podge" - a review by mino

On paper, Animal Factory looks like it has the potential to be a great film. Directed by Steve Buscemi, with a truly outstanding cast — led by the always-wonderful Willem Dafoe — and set in a prison, which traditionally makes for an interesting movie; it looked to have it all.

I think you know what I'm going to say next, but here it is anyway: it doesn't have it all.

Don't get me wrong, Animal Factory is a pretty good movie, but when watching it, you can't help but wish that it was better. It's pretty much just a cookie-cutter prison movie, with the hardened lifers, the toughs, the racial tension, the guy who runs the joint from his cell (Dafoe), and the young greenhorn (Edward Furlong). Nothing too imaginative, alas.

There is the odd good touch — casting Mickey Rourke as Furlong's transvestite cellmate, for example, is an inspired move, even though the character is ultimately not as interesting as she ought to be. Likewise, Tom Arnold's menacing bad guy could have been a fine plot element, if they'd spent enough time on him to actually make him menacing.

The ending of Animal Factory is odd indeed: it seems very tacked-on, almost as if they thought ‘well, we have to have a dramatic wrap-up! The Shawshank Redemption (1994) did!’, and just bunged something on the end. In Shawshank, the plot was carefully built up, and the ending wrapped it up nicely; in Animal Factory, the movie isn't really plot-driven, and sticking on a hastily cobbled-together ending isn't really appropriate. I kind of wish Buscemi had embraced the non-plot-driven nature of the movie, rather than panicking at the end, which is what seems to have happened.

Animal Factory is a competent if not dazzling film, let down by a plot that doesn't quite know where it's going, an uncanny resemblance to far too many of its predecessors, and an ending that is very very disappointing indeed. Just another prison movie, I'm afraid.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 3 Feb 2004

"So promising yet disappointing" - a review by em_fiction

I hired this film a few weeks ago during the school holidays, along with a pile of other weekly videos. Despite the fact that it was direct-to-video (which was a shame), the cover looked so good - Willem Dafoe and Edward Furlong in a film directed by Steve Buscemi - great actors in a film by a great actor. Yes, it was packed with potential, but sadly after watching it I realised why it went straight to video.

Animal Factory is a mild prison drama about Ron, a young man (Furlong) who is sentenced to prison on drug charges. In prison, he befriends veteran prisoner Earl (Dafoe) who takes Ron under his wing and helps him settle into his new concrete-and-barbwire-bounded home.

Throughout the film, we explore more and more about the prison and the general environment as Ron develops his own attachment to the prison. There are many things Ron learns to tackle during his time as an inmate and along the way Earl paves a path to ease Ron's endurance of the difficult environment.

There is so much this film's story has to offer. I really liked the way it went into almost every aspect of what it is like to live and survive in a prison environment; everything from the racial tension between whites and blacks to the assault, rape and inhumanity that some suffer.

Although Buscemi does a competent job, I was fairly disappointed. The end result wasn't really the film that it wanted to be - it was more like watching a television drama series. It's difficult to describe; I guess it's just that the film is so subtle - a little too subtle - that it didn't have as much impact as it should've had.

Performances, generally speaking, were okay. Willem Dafoe is great, and there is a fairly solid supporting cast including Danny Trejo - the guy that's always in Robert Rodriguez's films - and that guy who played the motel employee in Memento (2000). Steve Buscemi also makes a brief but thankless appearance as a member of the parole board.

Edward Furlong had the perfect look for the role but his execution was reasonably poor. His soapie-like expressions lacked emotion and really weren't all that convincing. Also, knowing Tom Arnold quite well through comedy, I could not take his character of the big evil rapist seriously. And speaking of weird casting, Mickey Rourke has the most fucking bizarre role I have ever seen - I'm sure you'll agree.

On the back cover of the video, I can vaguely recall a review or comment that compared this to another prison film, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and that is just taking it a step too far. Maybe Earl and Ron develop a relationship similar to Red and Andy, but Animal Factory needs to stretch quite a length to be able to meet the likes of that film. It could've been so much better.

em_fiction gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 7 Nov 2003

"An examination of jail-life" - a review by pearly

Animal Factory is the story of Decker (Edward Furlong), a young rich kid who is sent to jail for drug dealing. He is immediately taken under the wing of Earl (Willem Dafoe), who has been there for years, and is in with some of the wardens. Earl attempts to help Decker get out of his sentence, and, eventually, they begin devising an escape plan.

I'm not sure what the story is with this film's release schedule in Australia. Given that it's directed by Steve Buscemi, and has two fairly well-known lead actors, I would have thought that it would have received a cinema release. However, unless I missed it on the way through, I think it was a straight-to-video job (as was his other; Trees Lounge (1996)). It's a bit of a shame, because this isn't too bad of a film, for its type.

Animal Factory is, predominantly, a film about life in jail. Decker's quote "I feel as though I need to keep one hand over my dick, and the other over my arsehole" sums up the content of the film pretty well. That said, it's an interesting look at the way people relate to one another in this type of situation.

Edward Furlong has certainly come a long way since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - he's very watchable. And Willem Dafoe is surprisingly believable as rough-and-tough Earl, the skinhead guy who has all the right connections, and the smarts to be able to have a good life for himself outside of jail, if he wanted to straighten up his life. Steve Buscemi has a small role as one of the staff at the jail, and there's a great cameo by Tom Arnold, who plays an extremely creepy prisoner.

I quite liked this. It moved at a leisurely pace, and got into the minds of its characters. Not that I would really know, but it seems to be a fairly realistic portrayal of life in jail - the politics that surround the whole thing. It is, however, probably oversimplifying the issue. Animal Factory isn't as quirky as Trees Lounge was, but nonetheless, it's worth a watch.

pearly gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Mon 24 Jun 2002

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 3
Average rating: 6.33
Lowest rating: 6 (by mino, em_fiction)
Highest rating: 7 (by pearly)
 
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