Wade in Deep
As prison movies go "Felon" is quite interesting because rather than just being about one thing it manages to encompass many aspects of being put in a tough prison. There is a cautionary aspect as an innocent man defending his family ends up in jail; this expands as we watch how his absence affects his loved ones and him both financially and mentally as he is forced to change to survive. Then we have the aspect of a dog eat dog world where you can't be intimidated or end up dead and then there is the corrupt wardens who use prisoners as play things. It means that whilst "Felon" has familiar aspects which can be found in numerous prison movies it also has the personal side which makes it more interesting. Add to this a gritty and violent side and despite at times feeling very familiar it commands your attention.
Life for Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff - Backbeat) was good, his business was expanding and he is due to marry his girlfriend Laura (Marisol Nichols), that is until one night someone breaks into his home and in defending his family and property he accidentally kills the burglar. Copping a plea bargain Wade is sentenced to 3 years which he should only serve half of until he ends up involved in trouble on the prison bus and finds himself thrown into a maximum security section under the watchful gaze of Lt. Jackson (Harold Perrineau) who allows the prisoners to fight in their yard time for his own sadistic pleasure. It forces Wade to toughen up as his chances of release shorten but he finds guidance in cell mate John Smith (Val Kilmer - Deja Vu), a convicted killer with no chance of ever getting out.
So as already mentioned "Felon" has a few storylines going on and it seems that after an opening which sets up the happy life of Wade we have a cautionary tale. It comes in the form that because Wade chased after the burglar and hit him with the baseball bat outside the property boundaries when the burglar had no weapon makes it manslaughter. It may be only a brief scene but it does a good job of getting across the line between what you can do to defending and attacking.
This cautionary tale evolves as we watch what being thrown into prison does to Wade and Laura. Now there is the typical side of this as financial pressure puts a strain on Laura and with her mother suggesting she leaves Wade leads to a strained relationship. But we also see other aspects, the indignity of Laura having to strip for her initial visit when an under wire bra triggers the metal detector to how seeing Wade change and become tough changes her opinion of him. All of which when combined with the cautionary aspect makes for a prison movie with a realistic side.
Then we have the dog eat dog world of life inside as we watch Wade having to protect himself or else end up a victim to the gangs. It is sort of typical but also more concentrated because we have the guards, especially Lt. Jackson allowing the prisoners to attack each other for their own enjoyment. There is something very typical about this but with minor twists such as the friendship between Wade and John Smith because Smith is not your typical old sage like prisoner but a man of violence. Talking of which the violence in "Felon" is brutal with numerous beatings, slashings, shootings all leading to a lot of blood and a final fight you wont forget in a hurry.
What is interesting and also good about "Felon" is that whilst it stars Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer with their characters being the focus of the movie their performances are low key. There is no big acting moments, no big characterisation rather two men playing two guys in prison and in a dangerous situation. In fact the only acting problem for me comes from Harold Perrineau as Lt. Jackson because the sadistic nature borders on being false.
What this all boils down to is that "Felon" is a good prison movie which not only combines various familiar aspects seen in other prison movies but also a more personal aspect. As such it ends up being an entertaining movie of two halves with the first being the personal drama whilst the second delivers the drama and violence.