Dog Pound (2010), Dir. Kim Chapirion

A prison officer inspects the inmates after a brutal attack

Rating: 5/10

This  film by French director Kim Chapirion, inspired by Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979), looks at what happens when three juvenile delinquents: Butch (Adam Butcher),17, Davis (Shane Kippel), 16,  and Angel (Mateo Morales), 14, enter a correctional institution in Montana under the supervision of officer Goodyear (Lawrence Bayne).

Needless to say this film contains a lot of violence, so if you don’t like violence better give this one a miss. It does however effectively show what happens when young boys representing a seething rage of hormones, frustrations, (presumable) bad parenting and attitude problems are restrained by often uncaring and harsh authoritarians. The results aren’t pretty, but it looks like a fairly accurate portrayal given reports early this year of violence inflicted by both inmates and guards in New York’s juvenile prisons. Half the inmates are also played by real-life inmates which does add to the sense of authenticity.

In the opening scenes the boys are subjected to an undignified and rough strip search, and when they enter the centre they come face to face with the centre’s bullies (who are part of a higher tier of prisoners who get privileges for their good behaviour, though how they got there is anyone’s guess)  headed by the bullish and ruthless  Eckersley (Bryan Murphy). To start with they are spat upon, and get valuable items stolen from them. But it soon escalates to the point where Butch is beaten up in his bunk for no apparent reason, leaving him seriously bruised and with a black eye, but refusing to report on the boys who did it for fear of persecution and reputation.

Meanwhile a naive Davis at the encouragement of Eckersley snorts what he thinks is cocaine and falls into a stupor while Eckerslely and his uncaring giggling co-horts draw penises on his face (these guys certainly know how to have fun). He is later shown crawling out of his dorm and violently throwing up. Davis is also raped by one of the inmates, and in a telling scene showing the guard’s lack of sympathy, his traumatised pleas in the middle of the night to call his mum go unheeded. His eventual suicide serving a damning indictment of the juvenile system.

Just as in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, the boys soon learn to be equally as brutal in this dog-eat-dog world and Butch in particular starts to command an menacing authority (in one scene he brazenly steals another inmate’s stash of pills, and he gets his violent comeuppance over his bullies leaving one of them in a pool of blood) whilst acting as a stand for the inmate’s rights. [*Spoiler Alert*]Initiating a riot after Goodyear accidently kills Angel by disciplining him too roughly. And Butcher with his boyish good looks and Ethan Hawke-like intensity certainly looks like an actor to watch. Baynes is equally good in his fairly limited role as the taciturn and hardened Goodyear, who also shows his frustrations at being a prison guard when being told to work on his daughter’s birthday (a frustration that goes some way to explaining his violent outbursts).

The main problem with this film, however, is that unlike A Prophet it shows in explicit detail how violent the system is without really giving us any other insight, so that the film’s unremitting violence starts to grow tedious after a while . Thus in a scene in a classroom where the teacher is asking her pupils to grade their day, no sooner have the pupils conveyed some of their frustration, then the film descends into crude innuendo towards the teacher and more violence. This may be quite realistic but it then fails to give us a deeper insight into where these characters are coming from. And without these insights it really is harder to invest in these characters as they become almost indistinguishable; a pack of typically aggressive and sullen teenagers albeit in very harsh and unfair conditions. But if you like brutal and pessimistic films than look no further.

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1 Comment

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