Tough Love Behind Bars: Philip Kerr Is Made to Squirm by a Prison Drama Exploring Male Rape. (Film)
Kerr, Philip, New Statesman (1996)
A friend of mine, a well-known journalist who has started several times to write a novel, told me why he had never finished one: "About three chapters in I realise that what I'm writing is not James Joyce and I can't go on.
No such inhibitions seem to have affected Steve Buscemi in directing his second feature, Animal Factory, set in a decaying penitentiary in America's Deep South. It's a respectable little movie, but then again it's not EachDawn I Die(1939), Cool Hand Luke (1967), or The Shawshank Redemption (1994). To that extent, you sort of wonder why Buscemi bothered. Still, it cost just $3.6m, which is about one-twentieth of the budget for The Last Castle (2001), a dreadful prison movie starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini. At the very least this film is better than that one.
There are some good performances here, too, most notably from Edward Furlong, Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke; but audiences have stayed away since the film's release in October 2000, and it grossed just $50,000 at the US box office. Until now the film had failed to find a British distributor and, with all due respect to Optimum Releasing, I think it is easy to see why.
True, it's nicely shot, and avoids all the usual cliches for this kind of film; even so, I can't see a British audience finding Animal Factory any more appealing than the Americans did. There are some subjects with which no audience will ever feel comfortable.
A few years ago I pitched an idea to all the big studios about an air crash investigator. A major star was attached to the project and everything looked promising. Naturally, the script included an air crash. This worried the studio heads, who suspected, rightly, that audiences might not like a movie about the dangers of commercial air travel. That was then. These days, it's everyone's nightmare to find themselves on a 747 seated next to a nervous-looking stranger who's wearing a pair of smouldering Nikes.
No less nightmarish for good-looking men such as myself is the idea of going to prison and discovering what really does happen when you drop the Palmolive in the communal showers. That fear of being buggered senseless by a heavily tattooed bodybuilder with a life sentence and a love of gilded youth is pretty much the only real story in this film. But it's hard to stay seated comfortably in the cinema when male rape is on the menu. …