Animal Factory

| November 28, 2017

I want to start this review off by stating I am a big fan of Steve Buscemi. His role as Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs is arguably the best and most engaging of the ensemble cast. His sleazy con man/thief Carl Showalter in Fargo is nothing short of brilliant. His understated yet engaging role as Donny Kerabatsos in The Big Lebowski is the most normal character in the movie. And, of most recent vintage, Buscemi’s lead role as Nucky Thompson, ruler of Atlantic City during Prohibition in the amazing HBO series Boardwalk Empire, was award caliber. But, as actors have proven for decades, every project can’t be a winner.

Buscemi has directed four feature films. Animal Factory was his second effort in the director’s chair. Sadly, it’s unremarkable and, in all honesty, rather boring. The story is pretty paint-by-numbers. Ron Decker, a young punk drug dealer (Edward Furlong, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, American History X) gets sent to San Quentin for ten years. He’s a fish-out-of-water, until he meets prison veteran Earl Coppen (Willem Dafoe, Platoon, Wild At Heart) who all but rules the prison. Earl immediately takes a liking to Ron, in a weird paternal yet sexual way. As Ron slowly begins to feel bulletproof thanks to his association with Earl, he begins to get way too cocky, leading to difficulties with his prison life, as well as his relationship with Earl.

The ensemble cast of Animal Factory is pretty impressive, more so in name than in performance. Danny Trejo (Machete) is, well, Danny Trejo. He basically plays himself. The late John Heard (Home Alone, C.H.U.D.) plays Ron’s father in a blink and you’ll miss him role. Tom Arnold (True Lies) plays a good ol’ boy prison rapist. Yawn. And finally, we get to the best performance of the movie. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) plays Ron’s cellmate. He also happens to be a “punk”, a.k.a. prison bitch. Rourke wears garish makeup, a lacy bra, and tries to sound like a streetwise prostitute. The performance is waay over the top, in every good way possible.

The two lead performances are direct opposites. Furlong’s Ron is drab, boring, very vanilla. The audience feels neither sadness nor pity for his character. If anything, you get an overwhelming sense of arrogance flowing off of Ron. Meanwhile, Dafoe’s Earl is sympathetic. You get a vibe of sorrow, loneliness, and regret from Dafoe’s performance. That’s definitely a credit to Dafoe’s acting talents.

Overall, Animal Factory is meh at best. I give credit to Buscemi for wanting to branch out from acting and going behind the camera. He amassed some talented actors. Unfortunately, the talents of the actors and the director didn’t lead to any new or exciting territory. If you want a prison drama with great acting and an engaging story, check out The Shawshank Redemption.

Animal Factory has been released to home media from the folks at Arrow Video US. The special features are sparse. They include several audio commentaries, the theatrical trailer, and a reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork.

Animal Factory goes to show that even the most brilliant actors/directors won’t always hatch winners. But don’t feel too bad for Steve Buscemi. If Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers come frequently knocking at your door, you must be doing something right.

About the Author:

Steve graduated from Southwestern Michigan College with an Associate's Degree in communications. He currently resides in Niles, MI
Filed in: Film, Video and DVD
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