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Film / Animal Factory

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Animal Factory is a 2000 prison drama directed by Steve Buscemi and starring Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, Seymour Cassel, John Heard, and Buscemi himself in a minor role. The film is adapted from The Animal Factory by Edward Bunker, who plays a brief role in the film and wrote the screenplay. The film is notable for its authentic and unflinching portrayal of prison life.

Spoiled middle class young man Ronnie Decker (Furlong) is sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug dealing. Local gang leader Earl Copen (Dafoe) quickly takes Ronnie under his wing and forms a kinship with him, even helping Ronnie with his case. With Ronnie looking to be released due to both good behavior and flaws in the investigation and Earl due for parole, the two seem to be headed on their way out. However, when a fight with local rapist Buck Rowan (Arnold) ruins their chances of leaving legitimately, Earl forms a risky escape plan so the two of them can finally leave the prison.

List of tropes applying to the film:

  • Affably Evil: Most of the convicts are actually fairly friendly, but they're still ruthless criminals.
    • Earl. He's an unrepentant gang leader perfectly willing to resort to murder, but he's a loyal friend and fairly reasonable as far as things go.
    • Jan, who can barely be qualified as evil at all. She's nothing but friendly to Ronnie and generally comes off as such a Nice Girl that it's easy to forget that she's a hardened convict.
    • Vito, who's laid-back and spends most of his time goofing around with the rest of Earl's gang.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • Earl. He's an amoral criminal, but he has standards and goes above and beyond to help Ronnie.
    • Lt. Seeman is corrupt, but he just wants to prevent the prison from breaking out into violence and genuinely cares about Earl.
  • Asshole Victim: Buck is poisoned by having cleaning fluid placed in his IV as punishment for snitching on Earl and Ronnie.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Downplayed with Psycho Mike. He's a rapist and comes off as slightly unhinged, but Earl is able to talk him out of raping Ronnie pretty easily.
    • An unhinged black prisoner randomly attacks Earl and Ronnie with a straight razor in the showers. His actions nearly cause a race war between the white and black gangs, but Earl and Captain Midnight are able to hash things out and avoid it.
  • Bald of Evil:
    • Earl is bald, though he's not particularly nasty as far as convicts go.
    • Played much straighter with Buck, a balding rapist who schemes against both Ronnie and Earl.
  • Bald of Authority: Earl, the leader of the white gang, is completely bald.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ronnie escapes prison and flees to Costa Rica, but Earl is forced to stay behind. He isn't too broken up about it, and acknowledges he probably can't function on the outside anymore anyway.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Earl and Jan are both snarkers of the highest caliber.
  • Dirty Cop: Lt. Seeman and several of the guards working under him are working with Earl and give him extra leeway in exchange for Earl making sure the prison doesn't erupt into violence.
  • Hate Sink: While most of the prisoners and prison staff get sympathetic traits, Buck Rowan is absolutely repugnant. He's a rapist, clearly sadistic, and single-handedly screws over both Ronnie and Earl's chances of ever being released legally.
  • Hero Antagonist: Hosspack. He's an out-of-touch Jerkass, but he's only trying to keep order in the prison and prevent violence from erupting.
  • Insistent Terminology: The inmates prefer being called convicts. Calling them inmates is actually an insult.
  • Jerkass:
    • Prison official Hosspack is self-righteous, apathetic, and condescending. However, he does show some genuine concern for Ronnie at one point, albeit in the most misguided and backhanded way possible.
    • Buck is an absolutely repugnant sadist who takes great joy in tormenting his victims.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Buck is left paralyzed when Ronnie stabs him when he tries to kill Earl. When he lies to the authorities that they attacked him unprovoked, he's killed in the infirmary for snitching.
  • Nice Girl: Ronnie's transgender cellmate Jan. She's a friendly chatterbox and a good friend to Ronnie, and it's easy to wonder why she's in prison at all.
  • Noble Demon: Earl. He's an unrepentantly selfish criminal who makes no bones about what he is, but he abhors unnecessary violence and goes above and beyond to protect Ronnie.
  • Put on a Bus: After being caught making moonshine in his cell, Bad Eye spends the rest of the film locked up in solitary confinement as punishment.
  • The Stoic: Ronnie, who rarely shows emotion and is mostly calm in spite of his circumstances.
  • Token Minority: Vito is the only Hispanic member of Earl's otherwise primarily white gang.
  • Villain Protagonist: Earl and Ronnie.
  • Wardens Are Evil: The actual warden is pretty much a non-entity, but the prison officials are generally aloof and cruel towards the prisoners. The guards are corrupt, though their leader Lt. Seeman does genuinely care about Earl's well-being.