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  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English - Hearing Impaired
  • Theatrical trailer
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Animal Factory

Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 90 mins . MA15+ . PAL


Steve Buscemi’s Animal Factory, adapted from the novel by Edward Bunker, is a realistic, character-driven drama that rewrites the prison genre; stripping away the bravado and sensationalism to expose the gnawing tension, boredom and fear that is daily prison life. A co-star with Buscemi on the set of Reservoir Dogs, and a former inmate himself, Bunker draws on his own experiences to craft a disturbingly convincing vision of prison life.

When spoilt little rich kid Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) receives a stint in the big house for peddling soft drugs, his youthful good looks guarantee that he’s going to end up some ape’s girlfriend. However, just as he’s heading into trouble, Ron is befriended by Eastern State Penitentiary’s top-dog Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe) and his gang of long-timers. Although his motives remain ambiguous, Earl takes Ron under his wing, securing him a string of cushy work assignments and generally showing him the ropes. Slowly a tender father-son bond forms between the two (or is it?), much to the chagrin of the other inmates, the guards, and the prison officials.

"Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven..."

Too often prison films take the simple tack of introducing a seemingly ‘normal’ protagonist into the prison system; a world seemingly inhabited by violent animals. Animal Factory takes the alternate approach of portraying most inmates as relatively normal guys, hardened as they are by year upon year of their dog-eat-dog existence. For the majority of the film, prison life is portrayed as relatively uneventful, and Buscemi plays beautifully against our expectations of the genre to construct a growing sense of unease; maintaining an undercurrent of barely contained, simmering tension. When the violence comes, it is short and it is sharp; lasting just seconds and with everybody (even the guards) at pains to see and hear nothing.

As is often the case with actors who direct, Buscemi relies on his ensemble cast to drive the film. Willem Dafoe has long perfected his portrayal of tough characters softened by a tender streak, and his superb performance is the tough yet emotionally-needy Earl is the cornerstone of the film. Dafoe handles perfectly the obvious contradictions in big Earl’s character; that the audience is constantly questioning the motives of this prison overlord is certainly the basis of the film’s success. Edward Furlong also puts in a good turn as the young, naive first-timer, proving Dafoe’s equal when required. The supporting cast is also strong, with Danny Trejo (you gotta love that guy) and Tom Arnold, amongst others, all putting in strong performances. The real eye opener, however, is Mickey Rourke who provides a darkly humorous turn as the toothless transvestite and Ron’s cellmate ‘Jan the Actress’. Man is that dude ugly!


Presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a single-sided disc, Animal Factory’s anamorphic transfer is yet another fantastic job from Roadshow. Taken from a crystal clear print, the image is sharp and plumbs the depth of detail provided by the gritty, authentic prison locations. Blacks are deep and clean and with several of the interior locations being seedy and dimly lit, shadow detail is impressive. The film intentionally displays a very cold look, with blues and prison greys predominating, and colour saturation and skin tones are perfect. A single MPEG artefact was noted, being a slight amount of macro-blocking on the wall in one of the early cellblock scenes, although I’d be surprised if the casual viewer would notice. All in all another superb job from Roadshow that shows their commitment to quality in all their releases, not just those that smashed the box office.


Although furnished with a spanking Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, Animal Factory is certainly not an effects-driven extravaganza, and makes only limited use of the extra 2.1 channels afforded by the format. Primarily a dialogue-driven drama, Animal Factory is let down somewhat by same; the dialogue being sometimes hard to understand. The reason is not the mix itself, which provides the dialogue clearly and distinctly from the centre channel, but the script and performances. I suspect that Buscemi, needing little in the way of post-production looping, was able to retain the majority of the sound from the original takes. Combined with unfamiliar prison vernacular and the growling method performances of Dafoe, Trejo and co., the result is some dialogue that really is hard to understand!

Moving on, the front of the soundstage, whilst displaying little channel separation, is used to carry the majority of the (quite serviceable) foley effects that breath life into Buscemi’s depiction of life in the big house. In addition, at times the surround channels carry an impressive level of ambience - whether out in the yard or under lock down in the cells, the sounds of prison surround you. Impressive, if a little sporadic. The subwoofer is used in a limited capacity, providing body to the thudding bass of John Lurie’s hip-hop inspired soundtrack, and helping with the odd slamming of a heavy cell door.


Given its ensemble cast and enigmatic director, there’s so much I would have liked to know about the production of Animal Factory. Sadly, Roadshow have provided only a full frame theatrical trailer to sate fans. They needn’t have bothered. What we sorely miss out on is an audio commentary from two ex-convicts Edward Bunker and Danny Trejo (wouldn't that be an eye opener!) as well as interviews with Buscemi, Dafoe, Furlong and Mickey Rourke that have been shipped with the region 1 release.


Although another in a long line of Hollywood prison films, Animal Factory is fantastic; a beautifully acted character piece that represents a refreshing new take on the genre. With its portrayal of ambiguous male relationships and beautifully cultivating a gnawing sense of unease, it will have you squirming in your seat, yet glued to the screen. This is definitely one of the best prison film’s I’ve seen in a long time! Although a bare-bones release from Roadshow, the video transfer is characteristically brilliant, and I have no hesitation in recommending Animal Factory most highly.

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      And I quote...
    "...a beautifully acted, slow-burn character piece that presents a refreshing new take on the prison genre..."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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