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Animal Factory

    Ian Jane

  • Animal Factory

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: November 28th, 2017.
    Director: Steve Buscemi
    Cast: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mark Boone Junior, Seymour Cassel, Mickey Rourke
    Year: 2000
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    The Movie:

    Based on the late Edward Bunker's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name published in 1977, Steve Buscemi's adaptation of Animal Factory details the exploits of Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) who is sent to San Quentin for a ten-year stint behind bars after being convicted for drug dealing. Here an seasoned, older con named Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe) takes a shine to young Ron, stopping a trio of Puerto Rican inmates from raping him and then taking him under his wing and teaching him the ins and outs of prison life. As this occurs, he meets some of the more colorful inmates - tough guy Vito (Danny Trejo), crossdressing Jan (Mickey Rourke), Psycho Mike (Victor Pagen) and Buzzard (played by Edward Bunker himself).

    Earl's been in prison a long time and he knows how it works. He's not only get inmates answering to him, but quite a few of the guards as well. Earl pulls some strings and gets Ron a better job, better quality food and then eventually a quick and easy transfer to his own cell block. He also helps him get to work on his case, pointing out a change in the laws that will allow a judge to alter his sentence if given a good enough reason to do so. The plan is to keep Decker out of trouble and prove he poses no threat, but when an inmate named Rowen (Tom Arnold) tries to rape him, Decker stabs him in self-defense. Even if Rowen had it coming, Decker's chances of getting out before he serves five years straight are shot down. Things only get worse for Decker when Copen hears that he's been talking behind his back, eventually leading to the inevitable escape attempt.

    Shot on location in Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania using hundreds of inmates from a nearby facility as extras in the film, Animal Factory feels authentic enough. The movie has an effectively gritty vibe, but in a realistic way, never overdone. The locations are obviously very real, which aids immensely in achieving this, and the film has a very believable look to it. The camerawork does a nice job of capturing the fairly desolate vibe of prison life, the solitude inherent in it but also the strange relationships that are forged here. If this isn't a flashy film in appearance, it doesn't need to be - it feels 'right' for the story being told.

    The performances here are strong. Furlong is surprisingly good as young Ron Decker. We have no trouble accepting him in the part, he does just fine. Willem Dafoe is excellent as Copen, playing the part with just enough quirk to make it his own and without overdoing it or chewing the scenery at all. Supporting work from Trejo, Pagen, Arnold and an unrecognizable Mickey Rourke is also noteworthy, while director Buscemsi has a small part in the film, as does Edward Bunker himself. It's also amusing to see Larry Fessenden show up in a supporting role.


    Animal Factory looks excellent on this 50GB Blu-ray disc framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This is an impressive transfer. Detail is very strong, even in many of the dimly lit interior scenes, while colors look quite natural, never artificially boosted. Skin tones look lifelike and black levels are strong. Shadow detail comes through nicely and the picture has an appreciable film-like quality to it, showing the expected amount of grain and texture but very little in the way of actual print damage.

    The English language LPCM Stereo track is also of very good quality. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No qualms here, the audio is just fine. Dialogue stays clean and clear, always easy to understand, while the score and effects are nicely balanced.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary featuring Eddie Bunker and Danny Trejo. This is a genuinely interesting talk that lets Bunker discuss, in his own words, how his personal experience led to this story being told the way that it is told in this film. They cover the cast, the locations, the script and of course, working with Buscemi as a director as well as what went into getting certain details right regarding the film's portrayal of life behind bars.

    The disc also includes a twenty-one-minute-long interview with critic Barry Forshaw that details Eddie Bunker's career entitled Eddie Bunker Life Of Crime. Those not familiar with Bunker's past will definitely appreciate this as it does a nice job of shedding some light in the reality behind the movie.

    Outside of that, Arrow has also included a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. A reversible cover sleeve is also included as is an insert booklet containing technical credits for the Blu-ray, credits for the feature and an essay entitled Too Real: Steve Buscemi And Edward Bunker's Animal Factory by writer Glenn Kenny.

    The Final Word:

    Animal Factory is a great movie, a really engaging look at prison life and all that this can entail performed by an excellent cast with a talented director at the helm. Arrow's Blu-ray release will hopefully give this underappreciated gem some deserved wider exposure thanks to an excellent presentation and a nice selection of extras. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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