This cautionary thriller should be a wake-up call about America’s outrageously archaic laws insofar as defending the sanctity of home and family.
Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) has a small construction business and a promising future until, one night, a burglar changes everything. When Wade, his fiance (Marisol Nichols) and their three year-old son are awakened by sounds from a prowler, he grabs a baseball bat and pursues the robber, who runs out of the house holding his wallet. Wade swings the bat, sending a fatal blow to the thief’s head. After Laura dutifully calls 911, Wade is arrested and charged with murder. Since he can’t afford a lawyer or post $1 million bail, the public defender advises him to make a deal: plead guilty to “involuntary manslaughter” in return for a shorter sentence. That’s how Wade is forcibly thrust into a penal system where the rules of society no longer apply.
Sadistic Lt. William Jackson (Harold Perrineau of “Lost”) runs the SHU (Security Housing Unit) at Corcoran State Prison according to his own rules and enjoys goading prisoners into fighting one another in brutal “yard games.”
“It’s all about race,” Wade’s cellmate (Val Kilmer), a ‘lifer,’ explains. “Prison de-sensitizes you and the guards are the most vicious.”
Writer/director Ric Roman Waugh’s astute casting elevates the low-budget production which was funded through New Mexico’s Film Investment Program; that’s how he was able to nab Val Kilmer, who lives on a nearby New Mexico ranch. Stephen Dorff projects a searing image of pain under pressure and Sam Shepard humanizes the Warden, whose sense of decency has not been eroded. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Felon” is a tough, uncompromising 7, proving that even in man’s inhumanity to man, there’s hope.