A young middle-class pot dealer is imprisoned in a violent, high security American jail and strikes up a friendship with an older, more experienced inmate.
The course of true love never ran smooth, particularly in prison. Yet Steve Buscemi manages, in his second film as director, to offer both jagged insight into penitentiary life and unveil a fairly tricksy, albeit platonic, relationship between two prisoners.
Animal Factory is a faithful adaptation of the novel by former inmate turned writer and actor, Eddie Bunker, aka Reservoir Dogs' Mr Blue. It pitches middle-class dope dealer Ron Decker (Furlong) into a hardcore American prison and under the wing of hardened jail bird, Earl Copan (Dafoe). Earl's motives aren't clear - Ron fears sex; Earl tries to articulate something more paternal - but as he shepherds Decker away from beatings and gang rapes, a strong friendship begins to emerge.
As jailhouse romps go, Animal Factory is rather satisfying. Indie film darling Buscemi straddles the actor/director divide well, only let down by a relatively crummy 'lets escape!' ending.
Steady-handed direction and a number of strong performances allow Animal Factory to maintain a descent balance between prison violence and inmate camaraderie, making for a well-paced and thoughtful prison drama.