Animal Factory (2000, USA)

Animal Factory

Written by Edward Bunker (who did 20-odd years in prison himself) and shot partly in Philadelphia’s closed Holmesburg Prison and several working prisons (substituting for San Quentin, where the film is set), this film about survival in prison should at least have some authenticity.  And it does – to a degree. 

It tells the story of first-timer Ron Decker (Edward Furlong), a very young-looking middle-class kid, who finds himself in jail for selling dope, and who is soon taken under the wing of a long-time prisoner, Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), who stops him from being bashed and raped, gets him cushy jobs and asks nothing in return. Furlong wanders round the movie looking like he’s Edward J Fox who has landed in the wrong film, and why Dafoe’s hardened character would befriend a young, frightened, white-bread kid and expose himself in the way he does is never fully explained.

There are stabbings and deaths aplenty just to remind you how unpleasant prison is, but on the other hand there are complicit or crooked guards and prisoners working as clerks in key areas who between them can arrange almost anything to make life more comfortable. Copen, for example, is known by the senior staff to be a bad influence, a mover and shaker (and he himself claims to ‘run the jail’), but he is still allowed to write incident reports and essays for his prison guard bosses… I wouldn’t say that it couldn’t happen (we had prisoner ‘writers’ not so long ago ourselves), but it does challenge one’s capacity to suspend disbelief.

Dafoe does a good job with the script he has to work with, and Mickey Rourke (as Decker’s first cellmate) plays an excellent transvestite, but ultimately the there are too many unexplained motivations and improbable dimensions to the relationship between the vulnerable kid and the hardened con to make the film work.

Animal Factory #2 Animal Factory #3

Posted on May 16th, 2009 at 4:27 pm. Updated on August 21st, 2009 at 6:44 pm.

#232 in the Top 500

13 Responses to “Animal Factory (2000, USA)”

  1. July 19th, 2012 at 5:08 am
    Mathias says:

    This definitely deserves more than 2 stars. Quite a moving film in parts, especialy the bit where Ron can’t receive the the photos his father bought him. Dafoe plays his part very well. I though Furlong seemed a little too relaxed at the start, seeing as it was his first time inside. Good music and cinematography, the intro will stay with me for a long time, with it’s unrythmic music. I agree about Mickey Rourkes character, that part deserved an award. I would probably give this film 3.8/5 please watch!

  2. December 6th, 2012 at 2:24 am
    websnacker says:

    Very Nice review. Here’s one more!

    Animal Factory (2000) – A Review
    Steve Buscemi’s harrowing Prison drama

  3. February 11th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
    machi says:

    Again you proved your taste when it comes to movies is terrible. I like your posts but your rating on the other hand… Not sure I want to know what movies in your eyes deserve 5 stars.

  4. March 12th, 2022 at 12:59 am
    10toLife says:

    Having been inside for a total of about 14 years, I have to say I enjoy your site in general. This is a pretty good review, but man are those two stars not quite worthy. In general, you get a pretty decent look at some elements of prison life, and it is not unheard of for cons who “run the show” to make alliances and connections with staff. Now yes, by and large, especially in an age of better accountability, staff tend to not do this sort of thing anymore. There are definitely jobs inside that involve administrative paperwork; I briefly had one. I can see how the level of disbelief applies here, as such jobs tend to be given to older and less “involved” cons. But hey, sometimes you scratch a back and it goes back and forth if the upper administrators are a bit more “just make it work”.

    As the rare ex-con who appreciates prison anything, thanks for keeping this site going.

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