Felon (2008, USA)


You’ve got to wonder why someone would still feel the need to make a movie like this, as if “Let’s drop an ordinary decent guy and a sadistic guard into an episode of America’s Hardest Prisons” has never been done before. Or warrants a re-run.

Loving family man, Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff), has a beautiful fiancée, a loving son, his business is prospering… and then he gives an intruder a whack over the head with a baseball bat, the bloke dies, and Wade and finds himself with some jail time for manslaughter. And if that’s not unlucky enough, while he’s en route to prison in the van, one of his fellow inmates gets stabbed, and he is left holding the shiv and finds himself in the Security Housing Unit for Very Bad People.

The SHU is ruled by another loving and benign-looking father, Lt Bill Jackson (Harold Perrineau), who amuses himself by putting the same mix of hard-core, desperate men in the same small yard every day and letting them half kill each other (before reluctantly intervening by shooting the combatants with rubber - and sometimes real - bullets). Wade gets a new cellmate, John Smith (Val Kilmer), a philosophising mass murderer with a formidable reputation, and he learns from him how to survive in the dog-eat-dog environment - by becoming more violent and brutal, essentially. By this stage he is unrecognisable from the bloke he was before; he shaves his head to fit into the Aryan group, and of course can’t talk to his fiancée about what’s going on for him. She is struggling financially and it all gets too tough for her, particularly after he is given more jail time for being an accessory after the fact when the stabee in the van dies, and she bails. It’s then that in desperation he hatches a plan to save himself and his relationship.. and fight against the corrupt system at the same time. It all ends as one might expect.

You might say that it’s well acted and the impressively tattooed gang members are all pretty convincing.. but the film trades so transparently on our sympathies for the hapless Porter, and relies so heavily on the idea that this one hateful, rogue officer with some heavy baggage can allow dangerous men bash each other to a pulp every day for sport - without someone noticing or anyone doing anything about it - that it all seems a bit artificial and predictable.

Felon #2

Posted on May 16th, 2009 at 3:49 pm. Updated on August 21st, 2009 at 6:45 pm.

#148 in the Top 500

11 Responses to “Felon (2008, USA)”

  1. March 24th, 2011 at 12:46 pm
    Cam says:

    Terrible Review.

  2. May 31st, 2011 at 4:54 am
    Mark says:


  3. June 8th, 2011 at 12:13 pm
    Terri says:

    So my husband has been in the system since he was 15 on and off… I wanted to know more about what went on so he told me to watch this movie. He said it was the best depition of prison there was in movie formatt. They are supose to be in (corcoran, ca) The empty prison they used sure does look like corcoran. My husband did time there once. Overall I thought this was a pretty good movie and accurate from what I’ve seen. And there are plenty of things that don’t get mentioned or seen(even on the new live series) that go on evey day. The CDCR is the most corrupt society in our government of all.

  4. June 14th, 2011 at 6:33 am
    DC says:

    To the author of this piece. Corcoran Penitentiary in California is no joke. There were prison officials who faced charges of wrong doing towards inmates. This movie is based on some of these “actual” events. It’s not your garden variety prison movie that has been so over played since the early 90’s.

  5. June 14th, 2011 at 9:08 pm
    eric says:

    You got me. I apologise. If only I’d read some other critiques first (eg Stephen Holden’s review in the New York Times): “The story is based on events that took place in the 1990s at the notorious California State Prison in Corcoran. A 1996 exposé in The Los Angeles Times stated that in the prison’s eight-year existence, corrections officers had shot and killed more inmates than at any other prison in the country. It alleged that guards regularly arranged fights between inmates in the yard on so-called ‘gladiator days’, placing bets on the combatants and often opening fire on them for sport. Eight corrections officers were indicted for staging the games but were eventually acquitted of all charges. That Felon is mostly fiction offers small comfort as you empathize with Wade’s ordeal.” I’m reassured, though, by the note that it is ‘mostly fiction’, and don’t resile from my suggestion that dropping an innocentish inmate into that horror cheapens the story; maybe they should have stuck to the facts. Eric

  6. February 5th, 2012 at 2:41 pm
    Kali Lafayette says:

    I truly appreciate this blog post. Want more.

  7. February 27th, 2012 at 7:45 pm
    Iris Darwin says:

    Thanks a lot for the blog post. Fantastic.

  8. February 28th, 2012 at 4:43 pm
    Josephine Baillargeon says:

    Very informative blog.Really thank you! Great.

  9. February 28th, 2012 at 5:40 pm
    Talen Biron says:

    wow, awesome blog.Really thank you! Awesome.

  10. August 10th, 2013 at 1:10 pm
    JJ says:

    Your review suckd. that was a great movie. not a good blog. If u r blogging about prison movies you need to know a little bit about prison. it isnt easy its rough and thats how it is always gonna be. co’s treat you like garbage because they think they are better than you but in reality they arnt and this movie shows it. Great movie i would give it 3.5 stars maybe even 4.

  11. November 2nd, 2013 at 3:55 pm
    Suitor says:

    Brilliantley played. based on the notorious Chorcran guards setting up fights and murders.

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