32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
What would you do?
A young man, just coming into his own, with a growing business and a loving young family, wakes beside his fiancee one night with the realization that someone has invaded their home. It all happens so fast: he tracks the burglar, follows him out of the house with a baseball bat, and seeing the man going for what he thinks is a weapon, he unleashes a killer blow to the back of the man's head. The burglar, as it turns out, had no weapon; his only take, the homeowner's wallet. And because the killing blow happens outside the home, the young man is charged with murder.
Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff)has apparently never been in trouble with the law before, past what most of us have; and he enters the world of jail scared and confused. His fiancee, angry with the system,sticks with him (a good performance by Marisol Nichols), shielding their young son from the worst of the truth, and keeping contact going with Wade, which is the only thing that sustains him in his journey through the system. He is able to bargain the charge down to manslaughter, but still is given time; and complicates his life even further by becoming involved in a scuffle on the bus going to prison,adding more time to his sentence.
Arrival at the prison plunges him into a dark world where survival is all. There are rival gangs, and no one can be counted on as an ally. Wade only wants to do his time and get out. But coloring the entire prison existence is a pervasive corruption amongst the prison guards, with one guard in particular as ringleader (Harold Perrineau, easily recognizable to LOST fans, in a gritty performance as a guard who turned sadistic). As Lt. Jackson, this head guard has a major problem with prison inmates and runs bets on who will win yard fights without doing anything to stop them until he steps in himself by shooting the offender he likes the least - not to kill, but only to maim.
Wade's fortunes change just a little when he is given a new cellmate - a lifer who has been moved to this new facility as a last-ditch effort by the warden in his previous prison to keep the man out of further trouble. This new cellmate, John Smith (Val Kilmer), comes with a history of respect that has permeated the prison system. He is legendary for having murdered the families of the men who killed his own family, and the other prisoners leave him alone. Wade is initially apprehensive of his new cellmate, but the two become guarded friends over the course of time, and John schools Wade in how to survive.
The prime mover in the second half of this drama, however, is Lt. Jackson's maniacal obsession with taking out his life's frustrations on the prisoners under his control. He also controls most of the guards; the one holdout, a young recent hire who has come from the military, watches Lt. Jackson's cruel practices with a pained eye but only makes a move when the prisoners, under Wade and John's influence, make a stand against him. And what Lt. Jackson doesn't know is that Wade's fiancee, with damning evidence provided by Wade, has gone to the FBI with what's going on in the prison.
This was a powerful movie; very sad, also. I found myself aching for Wade, who should have never been in the situation in which he found himself. The prison experience was presented with the foreboding that it probably is in reality; the gangs hang with their own, they battle with rival gangs, and discipline is meted out amongst each other. It was a rough movie to watch, but very absorbing; and all performances - including a small but great role by an old favourite, the excellent actor Sam Sheppard - were outstanding. Val Kilmer looks a bit like the Big Lebowski, with a bushy goatee, but plays his don't-look-at-me-or-I'll-killya role to perfection.
Not a big-marquee movie, but well done and fast-paced.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Writer/Director Ric Roman Waugh may not have a large number of completed films under his stuntman belt, but if FELON is any indication of the quality of work we can expect from him, it seems he has a solid future. There are many films about prison life and prison breaks that keep coming down the pike, but few of them have the quality of being character studies of how prison affects the minds and lives of both those incarcerated and those on the outside who must deal with the realities both concurrent and future of living in the shadow of ultimate effects of prison experiences. FELON is a strong character-based prison drama.
Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) is a young man on the rise: he is planning to marry the mother Laura (Marisol Nichols) of his child Michael (Vincent Miller), his small business is finally becoming successful, and his family life is happy. One evening Wade's and Laura's sleep is interrupted by an intruder who steals Wade's wallet, then runs out of the house with Wade chasing him with a baseball bat. One hit with the bat the robber is dead. The police arrive and because of the logistics of the timing of the blow to the robber, Wade is arrested for murder. Unsuccessful attempts to explain the situation eventually lead to Wade's being sentenced to prison and he is sent to a prison run by a sadistic Lt. Jackson (Harold Perrineau) with demons of his own. A famous prisoner John Smith (Val Kilmer) is transferred to the prison and becomes cellmates with Wade. The racial violence between prisoners creates rules and gangs and Wade is caught up in the violence that occurs in the daily 'hour in the yard' experiences, until John shares his knowledge of prison logistics and advises Wade in how to avoid critical issues. The prisoners are not only violent among themselves, but they are also the pawns of the brutally evil Lt. Jackson and his crew who appear to delight in the traumas the prisoners create. It is obvious that the good guy/bad guy line is blurred and in order to survive Wade follows John's wise council to an ending that eventually results in some correction of the evils of the prison situation.
Survival is the key in the cases of many of the characters, including some of the 'good guards' (Nate Parker, Greg Serano), the steadfast Laura, her mother (a small but well defined role for Annie Archer), and for former guard Gordon (Sam Shepard) a friend of John Smith. Dorff and Kilmer provide very strong characterizations as does Perrineau, but without the fairly large cast of 'fellow prisoners' who set the scenes, their overall performances would be less impressive. It is here that Ric Roman Waugh demonstrates his talent for handling the mixture of physical brutality with the fragility of each individual's mind that makes the film work. It is a tough film to watch but it is solid craftsmanship. Grady Harp, September 08
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I loved prison flicks like "The Last Castle" [with Robert Redford and James Gandolfini], The Rock [with Sean Connery] and Brubaker [with Robert Redford], and so when I saw this at the DVD store, I decided to give it a chance. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised - despite the non-existent hype, this was quite a solid prison movie with an excellent cast.
The story centers around Wade Porter [Stephen Dorff] who plays an average Joe type character, leading a relatively idyllic existence with his fiancee Laura [Marisol Nichols] and his young son. They are preparing to get married and have dreams for their future when it is all shattered one eventful night with a home intrusion. Wade chases down the intruder and swings at the guy with a bat resulting in the intruder's death. Before you know it, Wade is sentenced on involuntary manslaughter charges to a prison term of three years. But, worse things are in store for Wade - on the trip to prison, he inadvertently finds himself witnessing a brutal murder committed by another inmate, Samson of the Aryan Brotherhood, and refuses to testify for fear of retribution. This gets him into the bad graces of sadistic Lt William Jackson [Harold Perrineau] and into the SHU [Security Housing Unit] at Corcoran State Prison.
Things get more interesting when a 'lifer' named John Smith [Val Kilmer] is transferred over to the prison and becomes Wade's cellmate. Smith appears cold and detached, a man so consumed by his past loss of family that he feels he has nothing left to lose. Despite initial animosity - both Wade and Smith form a tenuous friendship of sorts that is tested to its limits by Lt Jackson whose 'hobby' is pitting inmate against inmate in the yard - where one inmate is attacked by another/others whilst the guards watch them for sport. What happens to Wade and Smith forms the rest of the story.
The movie is well-told, but what makes it compelling is the solid acting -Dorff as Wade Porter, a man who was only doing what he felt was right but finds himself on the other side of the law again and again, finally driven to desperation in a bid to survive the brutal system, one which lacks compassion and justice. Kilmer as John Smith truly plays the 'lifer' to a hilt - a man who sought vengeance on those who killed his family by wiping out the murderers and their families, a man of contradictions and who spouts philosophy, yet remains firmly entrenched as a legend amongst the inmates. Harold Perrineau's Lt Jackson credibly plays a sadistic guard who takes out his frustrations on the inmates, treating them as emotionless, soulless beings undeserving of any form of compassion.
All in all, I found this prison movie to be well-done and though some scenes were truly brutal, the depictions seemed credible and never over the top. Final verdict : highly watchable prison flick with excellent casting.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Felon is one of those prison films that makes you pray that you never end up behind bars doing hard time. Filled with violence, intimidation and pathos, it wrings a lot of energy out of you, but makes the payoff worth the effort.
Stephen Dorff is at a good place in life as the film starts. He's the owner of a small construction company planning to expand with a small business loan, and planning his wedding to his live-in girlfriend, with whom he has a young son. One night, he awakes to hear an intruder in his house. He chases the burglar into his front yard, and swings a baseball bat, hitting and killing the burglar. Since the burglar was outside and running away, Dorff is charged with murder.
What happens next is every law-abiding citizen's nightmare. Dorff gets caught up in a prison-gang killing and has time added to his sentence. To make matters worse, his involvement in the killing runs him afoul of the head prison guard (played with gusto by Harold Perrineau from Lost), who amuses himself by making the prisoners fight each other in the yard during recreation time. The only friend Dorff manages to make is his new cellmate, John Smith, played by Val Kilmer, a famous mass-murderer who has been transferred to the prison after his involvement in a prison riot.
Kilmer teaches Dorff the ropes of prison life, but even Kilmer's tutelage can't protect Dorff from the sadistic prison guard captain.
This is a very well-written and well acted movie. Kilmer gives one of his finest performances in years, and Perrineau proves that he's more than capable of playing a hissable villain. Felon is a treat that may be hard going down, but is ultimately satisfying.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2010
You're a law-abiding citizen, apart from a little minor hell-raising in your youth. You're with a woman you love dearly and the child you created together. Life is good; you've got a steady job, a decent standard of living and reasonably bright prospects for the future.
Then, in a flash, it's all gone, and you're in a place where sadism is the norm and mercy an unknown quality. You're surrounded by vicious, almost inhumanly strong men without moral compasses, as predatory in their natures as the fiercest creatures of the jungle. And they all see you the same way: as fresh, tasty meat to be devoured.
Perhaps worst of all, those paid to protect you have no regard for your safety, and in fact actively conspire to make your life as hellish as possible.
That's the situation Stephen Dorff's character finds himself in. And that is the nightmare he must endure, day after day, with a dim hope of a return to his loved ones the only thing keeping him going.
Val Kilmer's character John Smith, who is simultaneously terrifying and sympathetic, is his only friend. A mass murderer (there are extenuating circumstances we learn about), he serves as Dorff's mentor and backup, giving him down and dirty lessons in gang psychology, inmate politics and maintaining one's sanity in insane surroundings.
Harold Parrineau is particularly outstanding, playing the Jekyll and Hyde prison guard who flashes in a moment from caring husband and father to vicious torturer and modern-day Caesar, presiding over his own version of gladiatorial games.
The ending is neither nihilistic nor sappy, but resolves itself as best it can given the location where most of the story occurs. Disturbing and hopeful at the same time, this is a movie you can't miss.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2013
This is bruvara film making at its grittiest and realistic best. Its a harrowing story filled with anguish, brutality and desperation. A film that slaps you in the face with the most unpleasant realities about the harshly unsympathetic world of the prison system in its darkest and most unforgiving form. A decent man played by Stephen Dorff attempts to protect his family when an intruder is detected in his home. Dorff's character misjudges an attempt to stop the prowler and accidentally kills him. Hes convicted of first degree murder, and through a series of unfortunate events after hes imprisoned, ends up in a maximum security lockdown facility. Hes forced to fight to defend his life and to survive in a chaotic den of brutal violence and harsh living conditions. He recieves a cell mate played by Val Kilmer, in a excellent and memorable performance as a seemingly hard nosed life sentenced inmate who eventually befriends Dorff's character and teaches him how to survive under some of the most hopeless and brutal situations, where the inmates must fight each other to survive and fight a corrupt prison system at the same time. A realistic, dark and sobering film that is filled with grimly lit atmosphere and unrelenting tension. First rate movie making all the way.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Felon is one of those little direct-to-DVD gems that is so rare an occurance. The always underrated Stephen Dorff stars as Wade Porter, a hardworking family man who accidentally kills a burglar outside his home. After being sentenced for involuntary manslaughter, Wade finds himself locked up in a violent prison run by the sadistic Lt. Jackson (Lost and Oz vet Harold Perrineau) who makes the prisoners of his wing frequently fight each other, and also constantly makes things harder to deal with for Wade. Wade also gets a new cellmate in the form of famous mass murderer John Smith (Val Kilmer), who becomes an unlikely ally of Wade's. Sometimes brutal in it's violence, Felon is from former stuntman turned writer/director Ric Roman Waugh, and the film barely pulls any punches. Dorff is good, but the real stars of the show are Perrineau and Kilmer; both of whom are simply spectacular in their roles. If there's any flaws to Felon, it's that the conclusion wraps things up a little too tidy, but for what it is, Felon is surprisingly great. Also featuring 24's Marisol Nichols, Sam Shepard, Nick Chinlund, and Anne Archer.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2008
The performances in this film are simply amazing. Much embarrassed to say, I was in tears at the end. I am a man. Despite seemingly little time onscreen, both Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard are mesmerizing. Rest assured that with Stephen Dorff, the future of American acting lies secure, lest we not forget Harold Perrineau ("Oz"; "Lost", but without the dreadlocks here) in one of his most electric performances to-date and the younger Nate Parker ("The Great Debaters"), including a great supporting cast with Nick Chinlund and Greg Serano. Catherine Zeta-Jones lookalike Marisol Nichols should have one heck of a career following her performance here. Like Oscar "Manny" Manheim (Jon Voight) in Konchalovsky's "Runaway Train" (1985), it was an honor to know John Smith (Val Kilmer) in this film. Thank you, Ric Roman Waugh, for one of the best films of 2008!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2011
Unlike many 'based on' films which often take freakish leaps in the story and abuse the artistic license to create fabrications that border on complete fiction, this film actually dramatizes events as they really happened.
In 1996 a federal investigation was initiated after internal prison videos were leaked to the press revealing a secret fight club, an actual gladiator arena created to entertain the prison staff of California's Cocoran State Prison. Thirteen prison guards and administrators were investigated; two were fired and eight others indicted for arranging rival prisoners to combat one another. Guards later claimed that they were mandated to provide 'yard time' for prisoners who divided themselves along racial lines into hardcore gangs, and providing that time to all prisoners meant violent conflict was unavoidable and inevitable. But then you have to ask: Why such blood conflicts no longer occur in Cocoran? The same tools, technology and management of prisoners available today were available during this period.
'Felon' explores these events by introducing Wade Porter - an average guy who, in the process of defending his family, commits a technical crime. And despite overwhelming exculpatory evidence and common sense - he's sentenced according to the strictest definition of the law: Blame the victim and preserve the rights of the scumbag.
Played perfectly by Stephen Dorff, everyday citizen Porter is thrust into a world completely unlike one he's known before: The Prison. This harrowing steel and concrete jungle is a hell that, if you're very lucky, will never know. It's not at all improbable that through a series of events outside your control you could find yourself there one day. Ask Louis Gonzalez III his thoughts on the subject. (i.e. Search LA Times archives)
Wade Porter is caucasian - white. And in prison the color of your skin is the color of your uniform. There's no 'choosing sides' - it's been chosen for you. The only thing you can do is not become the victim. The protagonist quickly learns that if you want to live - you fight. There is no other option. Having decided to go "lone wolf", a prisoner without a gang, he's forced to constantly battle other inmates inside the yard/arena.
It's into this purgatory that he meets the man who is respected by all, regardless of color or gang affiliation. And in this role, Val Kilmer delivers one of the finest performances of his roller-coaster career.
Portraying multiple murderer John Smith, Kilmer is a sublime powerhouse. Equal parts brutal killer and sympathetic normal guy; equal parts sage teacher and disconnected dark stranger. A deeply complex character whose serene purposefulness is wrapped around a steel hard core of stunning brutal violence. A man who very understandably committed an unspeakable act in response to an equally unspeakable act.
Porter is fortunately assigned as cellmate to Mr. Smith, who reluctantly teaches him the rules of hell. Their first encounter sets the stage for this amazing film: "Fornicate or Fight". Obviously, Amazon does not allow profanity and the actual word used in the film, but you get the gist; it's pure brutality from the very second he hears the clang of the cell door. Having earned respect by going to battle without fear - Smith opens up to the new fish. It's these lessons that help Porter survive.
I only wish I could award Kilmer an Academy Award nomination for this role. When I compare it to some of the nominees for that year (2009/81st Show). The comparison between his performance in 'Felon' versus the poseurs who actually were nominated isn't apples versus oranges = it's brilliant versus pretentious arthouse walk-throughs.
So bleeping pathetisad that schoolyard politicking has such influence in the nomination process.
I've screened this several times over the years - and will continue to do so when I need inspiration and a dose of "it could be so much worse" to ground myself. Premium filmmaking and penultimate acting and actors. Watch it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A truly good film that deserves more exposure than it has gotten. It finally got upgraded to making the distributor posters after languishing in the middle of the order magazines for a couple months. I was hesitant as typically they bury these lesser known titles for a reason. Instead, this turned out to be a brutal, yet emotional film to the end.
The story is simple enough with our main character being imprisoned after accidentally killing an intruder. His life becomes a fast lesson in surviving the hell of State level incarceration. The depth and story building from there gets very raw and detailed. Even the guards' personal life gets viewed, making for a non-typical foray into the bad character's way of living. Val Kilmer redeems himself after that Conspiracy mess here, and actually made for a very believable mass murderer. Sam Shepherd is always a welcome screen presence, and Marisol Nichols was brave enough to bare all in what had to be a tough scene.
Now for the Blu angle - wow. So much of this film is in your face close ups and directly involved fight sequences. Watching the accompanying docu, the filmmakers used hand helds to get right in the middle of the mess. The Blue showed it all - every single pore and every single drop of sweat and blood. Did the usual over abundance of pauses and found no flaws. This was the first Blu film (I have seen) that had a time lapse topography shot - and it looked outstanding. The accompanying doc was only 14 minutes long but it gave good insight into the authenticity of the cast and location shooting. Let's just say the title of the film represents quite a few of our on screen actors in this one.
A worthwhile owner, and is a rewatchable film - but only in Blu. I could not imagine watching this in LD after seeing this much clarity and detail.