DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of The Farm: Angola USA , Dead Man Walking , After Innocence , The Green Mile , The Shawshank Redemption, I Want to Live!, Brubaker

 

Title:  The Farm: Angola USA

Release Date:  1998

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 88 min

MPAA Rating: sug PG-13

Distributor and Production Company:  Seventh Art; Gabriel, Kurtis Productions

Director; Writer: Liz Garbus, Wilbert Rideau

Producer: Liz Garbus

Cast:  

Technical:

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: independent film

Review:

            It is the policy of HPPUB to review independent, small films that do not get a lot of attention from conventional sources. A film written by a prisoner serving life-without-parole for murder but also having received book awards for his memoirs, is certainly out of the mainstream. Angola, Louisiana, is the largest maximum security prison in the United States and it is built on a peninsula in the flood-prone Mississippi Delta.

            If someone goes to prison for life, does he have any life left? This film probes this question with six prisoners. One of them does wind up receiving death by injection (bring back memories of Dead Man Walking (1996)). Another wastes away and dies, almost live on camera, of lung cancer. Parole board hearings are shown, as are work gangs. There is none of the outright brutality shown in other prison accounts (such as on Ted Koppel's recent series for ABC News.)

Dead Man Walking (1995, Polygram/Gramercy, dir. Tim Robbins, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean) was a famous film about the death penalty. A nun tries to comfort both a condemned man Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) and the families of his victims. The title of the film refers to the phrase uttered by the warden as the condemned man walks to the electric chair. The day before, Poncelet actually remarks that they shaved part of his leg as a final indignity.

After Innocence (2005, New Yorker/HBO Documentary, dir. Jessica Sanders, HD video, 95 min, sug PG-13) traces the lives of a number of men who have been released from prison after their convictions were reversed after uncovering DNA evidence. In most cases, the states in which they were convicted do very little to help them. State prosecutors resist the efforts of attorneys (like Barry Scheck well known from the O. J. Simpson trial) to overturn convictions because they want to protect their own careers. Mistaken eyewitness identity is the most common cause of wrongful convictions. One particularly disturbing case traced a man incarcerated in Brevard County Florida for over twenty years for rape. Even DNA evidence on public hair was not enough, as the judge also insisted on a more difficult test on semen, which eventually cleared him. In another case a policeman was wrongfully convicted in Warwick, R.I.  but he was eventually reinstated to his job. This is something that could happen to anyone. Once when I was lost in a suburban neighborhood I was stopped by police and questioned about a local crime. I was able to convince them that I had legitimate business there. The movie did not show as much detail about how these men were initially wrongfully apprehended as it might have. The film’s website is http://www.afterinnocence.com/

CNN Presents did a related report “Reasonable Doubt: Can Crime Labs Be Trusted” on Nov. 5, 2005.  There was a lot about “bogus science” in crime labs, and the lack of professional standards in fields like fingerprinting and bullet metallurgy.

 

A related link is The Innocence Project. 

 

 The Green Mile (1999, Warner Brothers/Castle Rock, dir. Frank Darabont, based on the novel by Stephen King, 188 min, R) is an extremely ambitious film about capital punishment based on the famous book by King. A period piece, it is set in the 1930s. This was one of the last really long dramatic films. Ambitious as it is, it is shot flat. A wrongly accused, convicted and condemned man has the power of faith healing (with some mouth-driven supernatural effects) of prison guards (Paul Edgecomb, played by everyman Tom Hanks) and their family members. There is one horrifying scene with a severly botched electrocution, with a body catching on fire. 

 

The Shawshank Redemption (1994, Columbia/Caslte Rock, dir. Frank Darabont, based on the Stephen King story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”) is a somewhat similar prison period piece, set in the 1940s. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) has been convicted and imprisoned for the murder of his wife and lover. He makes a friend of Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) who gives him ambition and dreams, and a kind of redemption. Eventually Andy will dig his way out of prison. The story has a certain sweet character to it.

 

I Want to Live! (1958, MGM / United Artists, dir. Robert Wise, 123 min, based on newspaper stories by Ed Montgomery). This is the story of Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward). She has a bad “reputation” and gets sentenced to a short prison term and probation for obstruction of justice. When she gets back into the world, she is advised to work and get married. She has a child, but gradually sinks into the wrong child and passes bad checks. She gets framed for the murder of an older woman by two men she cohorts with, and gets sentenced to the California gas chamber. The last part of the film takes us through the agonizing process of appeals, stays, and “vacancies”. Finally, she is put to death, painfully. The black and white photography of the preparations of the chemicals are among the most stark ever in the movies. Another great BW scene is the collapse of a literal house of cards.  The movie encapsulates the media coverage of his mockery of justice with televised news reports on little halo-like BW television sets of the time.

 

The movie is presented as a miscarriage of justice, which it certainly is. The authorities and the courts are constantly manipulating the facts and the technology to put her away. (There is some curious stuff about the wearing of a wire, and the prison scene where she plays 45 rpm records with a heavy tracking tone arm made me cringe.) Yet, even given the priest’s absolutions and such, the movie is an exercise in despair. The world seems to have no use for her (except for the tender scenes with her son), and it the circumstances seem to suggest that her removal from the world, however unjust, forces the rest of us to straighten up. I wonder. 

 

Brubaker (1980, 20th Century Fox, dir. Stuart Rosenbert, book by Joe Hymans, Thomas O. Murton). Henry Brubaker (Robert Redford) goes into Wakefield Prison in Arkansas as an inmate to gather evidence, then attempts to clean up corruption, exposing slave labor, extortion and murder in the prison system, politically motivated. There are snippets where inmates give insight into what their sociopathy is all about. The DVD transfer sounds muffled. Mono sound, before the days that Dolby was used everywhere.

 

Related reviews:  I’ll Cry Tomorrow     Witness for the Prosecution

 

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