Steve Buscemi's second movie as director is a convincing drama of life in a US jail

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Overall rating:

Score 4

Product:

Killing Time

DIRECTED BY Steve Buscemi

STARRING Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Seymour Cassel, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold

Opens July 4, Cert 18, 94 mins

After two years of gathering dust on distributors’ shelves, Steve Buscemi’s follow-up to his 1996 directorial debut, Trees Lounge, finally gets a UK cinema release.

Where Trees Lounge was a beautifully performed but slight, self-penned piece inspired by Buscemi’s pre-stardom years hanging around Long Island bars, Animal Factory sees America’s number one character actor adapt a novel written by fellow Reservoir Dog, Edward Bunker (Mr Blue to Buscemi’s Mr Pink).

As befits Bunker (Uncut’s favourite grizzled ex-con turned hardboiled crime writer and sometime actor), Animal Factory is a suitably unflinching take on the US prison system, as seen through the eyes of first-time convict Ron Decker (Furlong). Decker is facing 10 years without parole on a drug-trafficking charge when it becomes all too clear that his boyish good looks are going to do him no good whatsoever in the joint. Stalked by the prospect of savage beatings and sexual assault, Decker’s lot is improved when he’s taken under the wing of Earl Copen (Dafoe). For reasons that aren’t immediately clear, Copen, a prison veteran of 18 years, whose reptilian intelligence and toughness have made him king rat, takes a shine to Decker. Copen insinuates the young lad into his alpha-male crew of gravel-voiced convicts and schools him in the ways of institutionalised survival.

Animal Factory steers clear of the overplayed shiv-wielding, butt-fucking histrionics delivered by so many convict dramas and presents a singular view of uncompromising jailhouse life, set apart by its casual authenticity and measured pacing. While the threat of gang rape and shower-room bloodbaths are ever present, Bunker’s screenplay (co-adapted with John Steppling) portrays these harsh realities as matter-of-fact truths. Bunker and Buscemi are far more interested in the everyday workings of the US prison system and what it takes to retain a sense of self in this peculiarly codified, exclusively male environment.

Animal Factory was shot in a disused Philadelphia prison. All non-speaking roles were filled by recruits from the Philadelphia penal system (hard-timers on day release) and it shows. Never have the extras in a convict drama felt so intimidating-they aren’t Actor’s Studio ponces in prison stripes, these guys are the real deal.

Dafoe and Furlong are ideally cast as mentor and ing