|Felon - A Groundbreaking New Film
By Danny Serratelli, BrickCity Boxing (July 30, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
A groundbreaking new film that exposes the flaws of the countries penal system, the realities of prison life as well as groundbreaking fight scenes. In addition to a learning experience the film features fight scenes unlike anything ever done before on film. According to Dorff, who was a participant in many fight scenes in the film, the fights were not choreographed like they are in other films and often turned into practically real fights. Several mixed martial arts competitors were featured in the film including Mike Seal and Joey Villasenor as well as several fighters, who have trained at Georges St. Pierre's gym in New Mexico.
Synopsis - Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) lives a modest but comfortable life with a young family, a fledgling business and a promising future ahead. But in an instant, his life, and that of everyone he loves is threatened and possibly gone forever when he's convicted of killing a man while protecting his fiancée, Laura (Marisol Nichols) and their three year old son. In just 24 hours, the unimaginable conditions of a new world order begin to take hold. Violence is the answer to everything and, even for Laura, what it means to fight for your life - alone - becomes all too real.
Sentenced to Corcoran State Prison, Wade ends up in a hellish facility run by Lt. William Jackson (Harold Perrineau), known as the SHU (Security Housing Unit) where the inmates are brutal but far less deadly than the guards. His cellmate, John Smith (Val Kilmer) is a stone cold prison legend, a 'lifer' and a man once devastated so completely that he has nothing left to lose and acts accordingly. An unlikely bond develops between the two men as Wade struggles to survive, having to put his own life - and the possibility of ever being freed - in relentless jeopardy.
Ric Roman Waugh wanted to make a film that was true to life, and he did not pull any punches or take the easy way out with his directorial debut in "Felon." Many of the issues confronted in the movie are situations that the general public may not be familiar with, however despite the fact that the film is not based on any particular "true" story; this story is the truth about what can happen to anyone's life once they are in "the system.
Early on in the film Wade Porter, a hard working family man, is confronted with a situation in which he feels his family is at risk. Cooper makes sure his fiancée and child are safe as he checks the house with a baseball bat in case of violence. Wade spots a man in his house and the intruder makes a run for it. The intruder reaches for something and Wade immediately smashes the man's head with the baseball bat. The intruder falls in a lifeless clump to the floor when Wade realizes that he has just killed the man. Upon inspection of the man's clothing Wade discovers that the man was reaching for only his wallet and not a gun or a knife.
The story then shows how one action that lacks any premeditation or malicious intent can lead to a chain reaction of bad circumstances that have the potential to spiral anyone's life out of control. The film struck close to home for me due to the fact that I know a man who was in a situation similar to the one Wade was placed in. When he felt his family was at risk and the person who posed a threat to his family appeared to reach for something, he, like Porter in the film struck with a baseball bat. Unlike the victim of Wades swing, the man lived and eventually the charges were dropped. The man who hit him is now an attorney at law. The attorney could have easily ended up on the same path as Wade in the movie. The film depicts how easy it is for anyone's life to stray from how it is planned and how minor circumstances and details can make all the difference in the world.
Director, Waugh did his homework before starting this project when he became a volunteer parole officer for the state of California while doing research and preparing to make this film. The film was very respectable in that it did not have the need to always be politically correct. The film also did not have the feel that it was only seeking commercial successes and it did not fit within the stereotypes of most prison films.
Many filmmakers conform to give films the Hollywood effect as stories are dummied up for the average filmgoer to understand and to get into the movie; however with Felon the cast and crew disregarded many film cliché's to pay attention to staying true to prison life. Dorff'e Wade Porter seems to be an everyman that many men can easily relate to early on in the film, however, his life quickly spirals out of control because of bad luck and the way "the system" works.
The public defender in the movie explains to Wade what the unfortunate realities of the criminal justice system are and he agrees to take a deal he is offered. Wade and his fiancée had the money to pay a lawyer and it is curious that they never consulted with a criminal defense attorney. The film screamed out why good criminal defense attorneys are very necessary in society. The film shows, true to life that you can follow all the rules, but one mistake and everything positive a person had done up until that point can turn out to count for nothing.
Kilmer and Dorf both relied heavily on Waugh's research and experience with the prisons also delivered solid performances. The film did bring back memories of the popular hit HBO series OZ. Despite another strong performance by Harold Perrineau, who played Lieutenant Jackson, the fact that Perrineau was a main character in both Felon and OZ albeit on opposite ends of the equation it made it feel a bit like an episode of OZ.
Nate Parker has a smaller role as the young impressionable guard who doesn't want to sell his soul. Director, Waugh admitted that a year from now he probably would not have been able to get the rising star Parker. Waugh belives that Parker is on course to being a big star and even compared him to a young Denzell Washington.
While it appears that Kilmer's character of Smith is not given enough screen time or enough back story, Waugh said that was intentional because he wanted the Smith character to be more of an enigma. Kilmer is one of the best and most underappreciated actors of his generation and he is as charismatic as he is talented.
Waugh also casted several MMA fighters like Mike Seal and Joey Villasenor and pointed out that mixed martial arts are getting big amongst the gangs in jails as mixed martial artists generally make good street fighters. Waugh pointed out that Georges St. Pierre fights out of a New Mexico gym close to where much of the film was shot and good MMA fighters are getting big in prison gangs.
The film didn't have many of the luxuries it could have been afforded if they had more time to shoot and a bigger budget, but in the end it was as real as it gets. As Dorff explained, it wasn't a bunch of ghetto looking famous guys at the Paramount lot, but authentic gang members and ex-cons shot in real jails. Most were real inmates and former gang members. Dorff bonded with many of the men on the set and even had one of them tattoo him… twice. He also received an executive producer credit on the film, and said that he is always grateful to have the opportunity to attach himself to good projects and help get them made.
The fight scenes in the movie looked very real and Dorff explained to that they were shot unlike any he has ever done in the past. Rather than choreographing everything, these were free for all real fights and the action was furious. Dorff was happy and surprised that he made it through shooting relatively injury free. Dorff also found it considerably surprising having suffered injuries in much less physically demanding roles.
Dorff also agreed with the director and Kilmer in his sentiments that the release of this film was very timely. The movie clearly exhibits how the penal system in this country does not rehabilitate anyone and how good people can have their lives destroyed in a system that is very unforgiving.
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