Yep, it’s another one of those pesky prison films. This time the story is told in a juvenile correctional facility in Montana, or in common parlance, kiddie prison. Different place maybe, but some familiar themes. A really clever title for one: cos they’re like caged dogs, geddit? Hard-as-nuts guard with a soft caramel centre. Drugs. Racial segregation. They even throw a bit of rape in there, just in case a guy getting blinded wasn’t grim enough.
Flashbacks at the opening reveal the reason for our three protagonists’ incarceration. ‘Davis’, 16, is found in possession of narcotics, ‘Angel’, 15, is a tad stabby, with a taste for stolen cars, and ‘Butch’, 17, blinds a correctional officer. The film starts off promisingly enough, as the boys are stripped naked, bent over and told to “Cough. Harder” to check for drugs in their, erm, cavities. Strip lighting, cuts and close-ups add to the humiliation of the scene, and one envisions a fairly stylized film with some realistic characters. Director Kim Chapiron emphasizes the indignity of these boys, and severe beatings and smack talk are served out as regularly as the brown swill in the cafeteria. Actually, an alarming number of features apply to a commune. Suspicious bean-ridden meals, open toilets: it’s communal living without any hemp-weavin’ fun.
Whoever was in charge of sound is clearly a minimalist, or couldn’t afford anything more than the preset track on iTunes, because literally the only extra-diegetic sound we hear is a tinny old guitar playing the same three chords. For the love of god, people; we don’t want Folsom Prison Blues on repeat, but try for something with at least a smidgen more allusion to the content.
On a positive note, the characterization is more nuanced than the usual thug fare, and it is performance that carries the film along. In a slightly lazy – or opportune – piece of character naming, Butch is played by Adam Butcher. Nevertheless, his lean, shaking fury is so effective that one wonders how people like Hayden Christensen get the big roles. Mateo Morales gets a slightly bum deal, as ‘Angel’ is under-developed, but Lawrence Bayne as ‘Officer Goodyear’ (again, crappy name) is inspired as a man driven to the brink by his environment.
Despite the oft-told story, ‘Dog Pound’ gives a realistic (not that we’d know, mind) portrayal of a prison facility and of the toll the system takes on inmates and guards alike.