River Of Grass
Cozy and Lee go on the lam after an accidental shooting in Kelly Reichardt's debut feature
On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM
Ex-soldier Sam (James D'Arcy) takes a job as a prison officer in this semi-autobiographical tale of violence and corruption at Her Majesy's Pleasure
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by former prison guard Ronnie Thompson, Screwed follows ex-soldier Sam (James D'Arcy) from his first day in the flourishing field of corrections and into a maelstrom of violence and corruption. And naturally, that's just the guards.
Screwed boasts a veritable galaxy of homegrown stars without whom popular TV series The Bill could barely be said to have existed. A person of a suspicious mindset might almost imagine that taking a bit part in The Bill is a sort of hazing ritual through which all actors must pass if they hope to eventually land a secondary role in a British prison drama.
Screwed's Bill alumni include: Noel Clarke (appeared in The Bill in 'A Gathering Storm', 2000), Frank Harper ('Spray', 1998), Doug Allen ('153', 2003), Ray Panthaki ('Taking Sides', 1998), Kate Magowan (an impressive four Bill episodes as three different characters, in 'Impact', 'Ricochet', 'Promised Land' and 'Sweet Sixteen') and finally Jamie Foreman (a glorious four-times Bill veteran, appearing from 1985 to 1997 in 'Crime Management', 'Dead Man's Hand', 'Last Night of Freedom' and 'Hostage', all as different characters).
Enough about The Bill. Screwed starts grippingly with the simple yet largely ignored idea of following a new prison guard as he learns the ropes. Why aren't there more films with a prison guard as protagonist? There's the inherent conflict of looking after a bunch of dudes naturally inclined to hate your guts. There's the steep learning curve. There's the potential for violence, on both sides. Yet most prison dramas are on the side of the convicts, in what must once have seemed a subversion of an audience's natural sympathies but now seems stale.
After beginning well, it's rather a shame that Screwed become bogged down in an overly convoluted plot to do with prison corruption that could have done with paring down to its essentials much sooner. There's also a secondary plotline involving Sam's deteriorating relationship with his wife that either needs much, much more depth, or cutting out entirely. Still, this is interesting work from relatively new director Reg Traviss, and his cast, for the most part, do him proud.
Starts well, then gets bogged down, but the set-up is an interesting inversion of the cliches that would usually have us side with the prisoners against sadistic guards. If you normally enjoy this type of film, give it a go.
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