Yes, you read the title correctly, this is a review of a 17 year old film. I did mean to watch a film in this decade at least, but in my defence I was running out of space on my Sky HD box and it was in HD. In fact it’s the only place you can watch in HD.
This does contain spoilers, but I feel they don’t actually spoil the film. But if your sensitive to these kind of things, then just watch the film by any means you can.
Ok so yes, this is not a new film. What’s worse is this film was, wait for it, made for TV!! But just hold back all your horrid thoughts of shite dramas or Sy Fy atrocities. The TV channel in question is HBO. Yeah, thought that’s make you think twice. So we get a decent budget ( I cannot find the amount ) and a great cast involving Kyle MacLachian (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, 51st State), Harry Dean Stanton (The Green Mile, Alien) and Tom Bower (The Killer Inside Me, Raising Cain). Having seen this back at it’s release on something called VHS, it was repeated recently on the greatest channel in the UK, Sky Atlantic HD. It had to be watched again.
The film is a dramatisation of the New York housed Attica prison riot in 1971 where the prisoners in retaliation to the awful conditions and the shooting of fellow prisoner at the infamous San Quentin Prison (though I don’t recall this being shown in the film). They over powered the guards and took over the prison for four days taking 33 of the staff hostage.
We follow newbie guard Michael Smith (MacLachlan), who’s family like many in Attica, revolved around the prison. It’s not like his life’s dream, but a new wife and child on the way, it’s the overtime that draws him reluctantly to join the staff at the pretty god damn horrid correctional facility. At first his kindness is take to task by the prisoners though he is quickly pulled back into line by his fellow guards and management. This lesson comes in the form of being introduced and asked to humiliate inmate, Jamall X (Jackson), a notorious black activist well know to Attica as being a “Bad Mutha F***er” . Whilst the reluctant Smith follows his seniors orders, we see the beings of a friendship between the two which will later, flourish and be tested.
But soon after, an incident over hot soup ( and not the mentioned shooting at San Quentin ) we see the prisoners reaching their limit and begin to very quickly take over the prison. This is where we get to see HBO flex it’s adult ratings, with some horrific, violent scenes. Sure in todays standards, it’s not quite got the hit as I got from it back in the day, it’s still carries a brutal hit. Multiple beatings to the powerless guards and their keys are taken, half of the 2000 prisons joined the uprising and so quickly the Attica prison surrenders to the rioters.
We then follow the fruitless negotiations by the State and prison authorities, which could not agree to all the prisoners’ demands which included complete amnesty of the takeover and the eventual death of one of the guards. During which Smiths determination not to bow down and beg to rioters demeaning treatment to their hostages. This intrigues Jamall and their relationship develops into a tested friendship in that Jamall protects Smiths life on more than one occasion from the rioting gang whom are getting restless with the lack of respect given to them by the state. The failure of the appearance of the State Governor Nelson Rockefeller which seems to be the crux of their demands and with no side wanting to back down, the violent end is nigh. Just like Waco Texas, state police go mental and take back the prison.
What follows is quite the most absurd battle in which, nearly a third of the prison guards are killed. Not by the prisoners, but by the police. This is no surprise of course really given the more recent events of Waco and famous incidents in recent wars. What is more shocking is the aftermath. Serious beatings to the surviving inmates, the emergence of utterly false newspaper stories and the complete lack of investigation into the incident and treatment to the prisoners after it all ended.
The film does a decent job of portraying the real events and a few captions at the end credits tell us of some of the aftermath that follows. There is some decent acting from the main characters of Jackson and MacLachian and good back up jobs from the lesser roles. Like many true story re-enactments, the fact that what your watching is more or less true takes it film up a notch or two. So the thing you take away from this film is that this actually happened and not that its a brilliant film. However, given that it doesn’t stray too far from the truth, it’s a great visual addition to just reading about it. Well worth watching as it’s shocking, well acted, pretty true to its source and it’s by far the best TV film you’ll ever watch.
The real story of Attica can be found here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attica_Prison_riot
Film reviewed by Invisiblekid