Plot: Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) is a first timer in San Quentin, a small fish in deep waters infested with sharks. He was given the full sentence on his drug charges to make an example of him, since he came from a well to do family and seemed to have all the means to make better decisions. Inside the prison, Decker is beyond out of his element and just tries to stay out trouble. He just wants to serve his time and leave this place behind, but of course, the other prisoners aren’t always concerned with what people on the inside want. When he learns someone plans to ambush him, Decker goes to shot caller Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe) to secure a weapon. Copen takes a shine to Decker and agrees to help him, soon taking him on a protege of sorts. But even with Copen at his side, Decker faces potential threats on a regular basis and his parole board meeting looms, so can he survive and secure his release?
Entertainment Value: Animal Factory eschews the usual sleaze and violence that prison films are infamous for, to tell a more grounded narrative. The movie still has flashes of violence of course, but it isn’t glorified and is shown for what it is, a means of survival rather than a ramped up action scene. The story has a more realistic feel than most prison movies, but it does have some stretches, though none serious enough to derail or slow down the narrative. Steve Buscemi directs and takes a gritty, on the ground approach. I didn’t find much style in how Animal Factory was shot, but it serves the material well and never distracts from the characters. That is the real draw of this movie, as it boasts a remarkable ensemble of talented performers. Willem Dafoe and Edward Furlong have the lead roles, while Mickey Rourke, Mark Boone Junior, Danny Trejo, John Heard, Seymour Cassel, and even Tom Arnold have supporting roles. Arnold’s turn here is likely the best work of his career, a small, but effective role as a predator trying to take advantage of Decker. I found Animal Factory to be a tense, well crafted drama that is filled with great performances. A nice change of pace from the flashy, action driven prison movies out there, to be sure.
Just some man ass, as you’d expect from a prison movie. Despite nude fights and shower scenes, no other intimate bits are revealed. As I mentioned above, this movie doesn’t have the frequent, graphic violence found in most prison movies, but it does have some bursts of violence. The shank scenes don’t linger on the act, going for a frantic approach that works well. So most of the blood is aftermath, as in we see the blood soaked shirts and such, but not much of the act of violence itself. The dialogue is restrained and well written, which matches up with the serious, more grounded approach taken. So don’t let the low score mislead you, the writing here is quite good, just not wild or overly memorable. But Rourke’s colorful character allows for a few humorous moments. In terms of craziness, we do have a scene where Dafoe slashes himself and smears blood all over the place and appears to eat his own shit, so that qualifies for a point, I think. Rourke’s performance also adds some minor instances of offbeat presence. Otherwise, the serious tone and grounded approach rule out much in terms of madness or off the wall elements.
Overall Insanity: 1/10