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Prisons seem to be a favorite spot for filmmakers to set their movies. And there have been some great jail films: The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, The Green Mile. Where else is a location so infused with drama, emotion, and struggle already? Prisons are tailor-made for the screen, with in-house politics, inner conflict, survival at any cost; the feeling is just sitting there waiting for a good director to mold it into a ninety-minute message. So when a juvenile detention center film comes out, you already know it's going to be heavy. The subject matter is what it is, and it would take an absolute failure to not convey some of the natural emotions of the place to audiences. Dog Pound turned out to be a very good movie, but because of its location and premise it's hard to decide just how much credit should go to the filmmakers and how much is due the setting.
The story is centered on three boys who have arrived together at a JDC. They have committed different crimes and don't know each other in any way, yet their lives are forever connected by the time they're about to spend in this place. Butch, a tough & angry young man, is in for assault. He beat a corrections officer and is facing a prolonged adult sentence if he doesn't keep his nose clean during his last chance. Davis, a smooth-talking lady's man, is in for drug possession. He splits his time between girlfriends and drug dealing, but in now in way over his head. Angel, a young Latino, is in for robbery. He tried to swipe a car with his friend and just wants to fit i and be a part of something. These boys find themselves in an unfamiliar world, a place where the old rules don't apply and you've got to adapt quickly before you lose yourself.
The adjustment is made harder by both the staff and the other inmates. Groups, gangs, and alliances have already been formed, sometimes with invisible lines that cannot be crossed. Butch finds himself becoming early enemies with many people, including Goodyear, a guard who takes his job very seriously and very personal. Davis gets in trouble with a trio of bullies, guys that don't play around and punish you for every mistake. Drug dealing rings, contraband smuggling, anger management sessions; all are a part of the new daily routine of these young men, a schedule that they had better learn & accept before they find themselves in more trouble than they can manage. And as tensions within the facility rise, lives will be lost, battles will be won, and the world will go on not even noticing the pieces of the global puzzle that have fallen through the cracks, never to see daylight again.
That's a little dramatic of a summary, but then it's a dramatic plot. After all, it's a story about three boys in prison, and we know that what goes on there is not something anyone wants to endure. Even the most perfectly run facility with the most attentive guards is sure to have its problems & dangers. Humans are not meant to be in captivity, that's not where we belong. To go into a place like this, even for a short time, must be life-changing, and not in a good way. We can imagine the horrible things that could happen to a person there, and then movies like this put it right before our eyes and it really becomes hard to watch. This film did a great job of making the experience feel real, brutally so. It painted prison as a real place, with good people and bad, structure and total chaos. It was a realistic look at what it would be like to be a young man in jail; not just a warning to stay clean or else, but a peak into a world that does exist and that is often inhumane.
Now, on to the film. With this subject matter, it was hard to tell where good movie-making began and ended. It was difficult to separate the documentary feel of the detail from the plot of the script. It felt like watching real life, and as long as you bought into that you might be willing to forgive a lot of movie flaws. So give some credit to the director for choosing such compelling subject matter and delivering it to us in such a stark and interesting way. But that aside, there wasn't anything amazing about how the film was made. There were never wonderful shots that caught my attention, or wonderfully deep scenes that stirred my emotions. It definitely wasn't Shawshank, and relied almost too heavily of our natural empathy to get us to like the product.
That's not to say that it was all bad, or that it was purely a news special on juvenile detention centers. The acting was actually quite nice. Adam Butcher as Butch was very strong. I have seen him once before in The Lesser Blessed and he was convincing in both that & this role. Shane Kippel was alright as Davis, playing strutting-but-insecure pretty well. And Lawrence Bayne was passable as well, making Officer Goodyear a believable & unlikable character. So the film in parts was good if not wonderful, but the driving force behind it was definitely the horror of the situation, not the brilliance of the plot. For those interested in the social aspect of prison life and what incarceration can do to a young mind, this is a film that you should take a look at. For those looking for something more, it was a good movie but not a great one.
Video - The film was shot in 16:9 Widescreen format. The video quality was just fine, with no problems and some nice balance. There was no amazing cinematography or beautiful shots, but the camerawork was nice, simple, and clean.
Audio - The DVD was done in Dolby Digital, with a choice between 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. The sound quality was without flaws and the minor use of music was appropriate but not exciting.
Extras - There are no extras on this disc.
Recommended. Dog Pound is a movie that is more about the message and less about how that message is delivered. If you judge it based solely on its pieces, it won't measure up. But if you accept the setting and reality of the situation, then it is an interesting film that is worth a watch. The video was fine, the audio acceptable, and the extras non-existent. I ended up liking the film based more on the latent emotion than anything else, but that's worth something.