Wade Porter is a good family man. He has a beautiful fiancée and a cute son, he is also in the process of starting his own business. However that all changes one fateful night when his house is broken into. Chasing the burglar onto his lawn he strikes him a baseball bat. As the thief was running away, Wade is arrested for murder. After striking a deal with the District Attorney, his sentence is reduced to manslaughter and is told that he will probably serve around 15 months. Then, as Wade has been in prison for already 3 months, his sentence will be only around a year.
Unfortunately due to an incident on the prison transport bus, Wade is thrown into solitary confinement and is allowed one hour every few days exercise. His cell block is filled to the brim with some of the hardest criminals in the state. You have white supremacists, black and Hispanic gangs, all ready to tear a piece out of each other. The block is ruled with an iron fist by the sadistic Lt. Jackson played in a mesmerising performance from Lost’s Harold Perrineau.
Wade tries to keep his head down, but in an environment where ‘might is right’ the quiet family man is living in hell. Meanwhile in the infamous San Quentin Prison, lifer John Smith has instigated a riot and due to this will be moved to the same prison as Wade. Wade’s fiancée Laura is struggling due to bills mounting up and unfortunately due to this puts a real strain on their relationship. Possessions have to be sold and eventually their house must go. Seeing his fiancée and son cuts real deep into Wade and slowly he sinks into the depths of prison life.
Over the course of movie history, prison films are not exactly an original concept. Good ones come along rarely, probably the last two good ones were The Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile, both directed by Frank Darabont and based on Stephen King stories. Horror films with prison being a basis for a story are two-a-penny with only a few such as Shocker being any good. Apart from that, only Birdman of Alcatraz, Scum, Cool Hand Luke and the brilliant Brubaker come to mind. Although if I have left any out, please accept my sincere apologies.
Now is Felon any good? You bet it is. In fact it is simply fantastic, it is easily one of the best films I have seen in quite a while. Why Sony didn’t chance a cinema release is beyond me, but it is a crowded marketplace and the film is extremely violent, (how it managed to get a ‘15’ from the BBFC is a mystery to me).
Stephen Dorff turns in possibly a career best performance, as does Val Kilmer. We all know Kilmer can act when he chooses to, but in this film playing John Smith he is electrifying. Smith is a man who knows he will never see the outside, wants to die and be with his late wife and child. Kilmer’s delivery on why he is in prison is chilling and sad at the same time. The supporting cast is equally good, Sam Shepard playing Gordon, Smith’s friend is excellent and Harold Perrineau is easily the nastiest and most corrupt prison guard in years, even more sadistic then Percy in The Green Mile.
Stunt man by trade, director Ric Roman Waugh’s script is obviously a little clichéd as are most prison films, but he has an eye for good handheld camerawork and his direction is assured and competent. The film’s well worth checking out.
Not the world’s greatest set of extras, a ‘making of’ documentary entitled ‘The Shark Tank’ and some trailers for other Sony releases.
Starring Stephen Dorff, Harold Perrineau, Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, Anne Archer, Marisol NicholsWritten and Directed by Ric Roman WaughDistributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment