Steve Buscemi is one of my favorite supporting actors of all time. Every single time he shows on up screen I’m smiling. I mean the man can do it all, funny, scary, dramatic, hell, he can even be a complete badass. And don’t get me started on his eyes; they didn’t become a meme for nothing. So when Animal Factory came in for review and I found out that the man directed it, I was all in. In fact, Animal Factory is the second film that Buscemi directed after Trees Lounge in 1996, neither film has ever crossed my radar until now.
Animal Factory is a 2000 prison drama that tells the story of a young man named Ron, who is convicted and put in prison for selling marijuana. He quickly discovers that the slammer is hell, as he is pretty much immediately harassed and singled out to be sexually abused by the stronger inmates.
However, as luck would have it, Ron catches the eye of one of this particular prison’s old-timers, Earl Copen (played by Willem Dafoe). We don’t really find out why Copen takes a liking to Ron (his motives don’t appear sexual, at least there are no direct actions that would lead us to believe this), but over the course of the film, Copen takes on a bit of a father figure role for the young man.
Copen has long established himself at the prison. He has his hands in a great deal many things in the goings on, from acquiring assets for prisons, to working the files for the prison staff. With this great deal of access, Copen is able to keep an eye out for young Ron and help him fend off unwelcome sexual advances and aggressions from other inmates.
The film really focuses on Earl and Ron’s interactions. We meet Ron’s father briefly in the film and learn that while successful and supportive, he’s largely uninvolved and doesn’t really follow through on his promises at helping Ron. Instead, Earl takes on this role, and his inner circle all do their best to keep each other safe.
Animal Factory is certainly not the first prison drama flick, and for the most part, it doesn’t really do anything new or exciting. What is important in this film, is not a hugely important tale that has wide-reaching repercussions; instead, it offers a very real feeling story that is told in a way that portrays prison life quite accurately. The shame of the matter is that this film came out a few years after The Shawshank Redemption arrived and showed the world what a perfect prison film can be. But don’t let that sway you from seeing this, it really is a worthwhile effort.
Apart from the accuracies and interesting plot, this film also boasts a rather impressive cast. Ron is played by Edward Furlong (who you may or not recognize by name, but is John Connor from Terminator 2), which is pretty rad. But apart from him, and the aforementioned Willem Dafoe, you also have Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, John Heard, and Tom Arnold (in a role that you wouldn’t really expect).
So if you enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption, and are interested in the prison drama genre, I would definitely give this film a watch. I think it does a great job at showing prison life and tells an interesting story.
Arrow Video specializes in bringing a wide range of films to Blu-ray with new transfers. For the most part, the films they work with look stellar in high definition. In this case, the film looks pretty good, but not amazing. There are a few noticeable places where the pictures get a bit soft, or there are blemishes where the film was obviously damaged. It’s hard to fault them for this, and this movie is still perfectly watchable.
This release features a 2.0 channel audio track, which isn’t really a surprise since it is largely dialog driven and doesn’t include much in the way of ambient noises or fancy soundtracks. I would have liked to hear this with surround, but I’m guessing this is as good as it will get. For the most part, everything sounded just fine as it was, even if some of the more raucous scenes were harder to keep track of.
As usual with Arrow Films, this release comes with some pretty interesting extras, even if there aren’t a lot of them included. The commentary is pretty interesting, as is the short look at the author Eddie Bunker. The booklet included has a nice essay about the film, and the double sided artwork is always a plus. One interesting note for this release is the blue amaray case, which is not very typical of Arrow Releases at all.
- Commentary with Eddie Bunker and Danny Trejo
- Eddie Bunker: Life of Crime – a 20-minute long look at the author of the book that this film is based on
- Theatrical Trailer
Animal Factory Final Thoughts:
While Animal Factory isn’t as masterfully created or memorable as The Shawshank Redemption, it is still certainly a good film that will undoubtedly please prison drama fans. It features a great cast and is very real feeling – and hey, it was directed by Buscemi – give it a watch! You can grab it from Amazon or most other Blu-ray retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.