"Felon" reworks many of the conventions of prison movies that have gripped audiences since "The Big House" in 1930.
In this case, familiarity breeds pleasure rather than contempt. Directed with pounding energy by Ric Roman Waugh and acted to the hilt by a cast comprising several of yesterday's stars proving their mettle, the movie delivers the thrills and emotion that prison movies require. Although it aims to make a case for prison reform, it essentially is a solid B-movie with just a few pretensions. Boxoffice returns will be limited, but the film will please its core audience.
Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) is a struggling blue-collar worker hoping to start his own business. When a burglar breaks into the home he shares with his fiancee (Marisol Nichols) and their young son, Wade overreacts and beats the unarmed man to death. He's charged with murder, then agrees to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Wade accepts a reduced prison term but is thrust into a nightmarish situation at a high-security prison ruled by a sadistic guard (Harold Perrineau).
Most of the beats of the story are fairly easy to predict, but Waugh, a former stuntman, doesn't allow us much time to nitpick. Editing is razor-sharp, and the atmosphere on the yard is caught in all of its bruising intensity.
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