Whether they deal with the consequences of a life gone wrong or the brutality of life in prison, movies about prison life are somehow deeply moving. Maybe it is because we can often relate to the protagonist as in the Shawshank Redemption or because we want to see him or her beat the odds as in The Green Mile. Whatever the reason, these ten prison flicks will entertain, engross and engulf your heart and mind for a couple of hours at a time.
Shawshank Redemption (1994) Based on the short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, the story centers on Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and his time at Shawshank. Convicted of killing his wife and her lover and sentenced to life in prison, Dufresne, a white-collar worker must adjust to life inside one of the most horrific prisons in the country. Here he makes friends with several inmates but none he trusts more than Red (Morgan Freeman).
The Last Castle (2001) Robert Redford stars as General Irwin, recently court-martialed and sent to a military prison under the control of Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini). The two men don’t hit it off and friction mounts to full scale war. Irwin retaliates against Winter’s treatment of the inmates by mounting an assault and taking control of the prison.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) The visual retelling of the classic Alexandre Dumas tale with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce in the lead roles of Dantes and Mondego, childhood friends who are forever shattered by one’s betrayal of the other. Dantes, set up by Mondego, is sent to prison where he serves insufferable years in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. He meets a priest in prison who reveals on his deathbed, the location of a vast treasure that allows Dantes to become the Count of Monte Cristo and exact his revenge on all those involved in destroying his life.
Bird Man of Alcatraz (1962) Burt Lancaster stars in the much fictionalized but endearing account of Robert Stroud. Stroud, a convicted murderer, is sentenced to prison at Alcatraz were he has repeated trouble with the guards. After killing a guard, he is sentenced to be executed but his mother’s impassioned pleas get his sentence reduced to life in prison in solitary confinement. His life becomes miserable and depressing until he finds an injured bird in the prison yard. This launches a love of birds and caring for them which again brings him into conflict with the guards.
The Rock (1996) This is not technically a prison movie in the same sense as the others on this list because the story merely takes place at Alcatraz, now an open tourist attraction. A group of renegade commandos, led by General Hummel (Ed Harris), has taken 81 tourists hostage in the prison and threatens to launch deadly gas-laden warheads into San Francisco unless their demands are met. A chemical weapons specialist (Nicholas Cage) can defuse the war heads but first he must get to them. Enter John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery), a former prisoner of Alcatraz and the only living man to have ever escaped. Mason is now imprisoned elsewhere and is offered his freedom in exchange for getting the chemical weapons specialist inside.
Dead Man Walking (1995) Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean, whose life, in part, the story is based on. Prejean befriends Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn – also nominated for an Oscar), a death row inmate. Her efforts to have his execution stayed are exacerbated by the victims’ families, whom she also relates to. The movie, directed by Tim Robbins, is riveting because of the detailed character studies of each of the person in the story. Both sides of the story can are given equal weight.
Escape from Alcatraz (1979) Clint Eastwood stars as Frank Morris, the only man believed to have escaped from Alcatraz. A group of inmates, plans an escape from the notorious prison. Execution of the plan takes years until the night of the attempt arrives. While the attempt did actually take place, the whereabouts of the three missing prisoners was never determined.
Fortress (1992) Christopher Lambert stars in the futuristic movie about population control. John Brennick and his wife have lost a child and the laws prohibit them from having any more children. They try to flee the country with their second child and are captured at the border in the opening segment of the movie. Once in prison, he subject to mind control and brutality, both of which he fights against.
The Green Mile (1999) This Stephen King tale craftily lends the reality of life for both guards and inmates on death row in the 1940s with a touch of the supernatural. With a 189 minute running time, the film takes the time to develop characters and plot lines. Tom Hanks stars as Paul Edgecomb, the head guard on the green mile. There, he and his crew of guards oversee the lives of the inmates awaiting execution. He and his men attempt to handle the men with dignity and respect during their last weeks while maintaining control and carrying out a difficult assignment. The prisoners each bring their own unique story to the film and you are embroiled in the telling of each.
Sleepers (1996) All all-star cast including Brad Pitt, Robert DeNiro, Jason Patric, Minnie Driver and others evokes dark and brooding characters in this ensemble piece about the lives of 4 men who as children were involved a prank that goes terribly wrong. When a man dies as the result, the boys are sent to a reformatory where they are neglected, abused, even raped at the hands of the guards. They help each other through the ordeal and ten years later, their lives have gone in very different directions. When 2 of the boys run across one of the guards, they are overcome with anguish and rage and kill him. A third boy, now an assistant district attorney, takes the case, planning to lose it so his friends can go free and as a way of satisfying his own need for revenge. The life the boys led behind bars is shown throughout the film in the form of flash backs.
Sources: Personal Viewing
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