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Film / Felon

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"No rules.
No hope.
No way out."

Felon is a 2008 drama film about a family man who ends up in state prison after he kills an intruder. Written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, it stars Stephen Dorff, Val Kilmer, and Harold Perrineau in a story based on events that took place in the 1990s at the notorious California State Prison, Corcoran.

Wade Porter is a loving family man who also owns a business, and is a few months away from marrying his girlfriend, Laura. However, one night a burglar enters his home. Wade pursues the burglar as he follows him out onto the front lawn and subsequently strikes the burglar across the head with a baseball bat, killing him. The district attorney, while sympathetic to Wade's case, is nevertheless compelled by the evidence to reject his claim of self-defense and he pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter, for which he gets three years in prison. Wade's subsequent incarceration forces him into a world unlike any he had known before: first the crowded confines of the county jail where he's attacked by an irritable wannabe gangster, and then punished with transfer into the high security section of the prison called 'the SHU' (Security Housing Unit) for refusing to inform against some Neo-Nazis he saw commit a murder, which involves twenty three hours a day in a concrete box in shackles, listening to hundreds of barked orders and getting no warning shots for annoyance. The only freedoms left to Wade are in his head and in the yard, but he soon finds out that the yard has been turned into a figurative gladiatorial arena for the inmates of the SHU, where prison politics and violence rule. As he struggles to survive inside, Wade discovers two things—the humanity of his cellmate John Smith and the growing sadism of Lieutenant Bill Jackson.

Felon provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: "When your life is defined by a single action, it changes [the concept of] time."
  • Artistic License – Law: A common complaint from viewers would be Wade's crime and sentence: in some jurisdictions, there exists something called 'Castle Doctrine' that can authorize the usage of lethal force against trespassers by homeowners and tenants; of course, there would be no movie if reality kicked in now.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, aside from having a criminal record and nearly breaking up with Laura, things will never be the same; then again, thanks to his plan, the scandal with ensure that both sides will redeem themselves.
  • Oh, Crap!: Aplenty: between Wade killing the burglar and Snowman getting put in a cell with Samson, a thesis on crime in America would best be started in regards to this movie.
  • The Old Convict: John Smith, who is serving multiple life sentences, fills this role: filling his cellmate Wade in on what he needs to know to survive in prison.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Outside the prison, Jackson is an ordinary guy who loves his family; inside, he becomes what he needs to be in order to survive.
  • Revenge by Proxy: This is John Smith's backstory: gang members murdered his family, so instead of just going after them, he killed their relatives as well. The jury was sympathetic enough to give him life without parole instead of death (though he didn't want that).
  • Shameful Strip: Laura is made to take off her blouse, and then her bra, when something in it sets off the metal detectors.
  • Survival Mantra: John Smith has his tattooed on his arm and chest. He also advises using one's daily routine as one.
  • Wardens Are Evil: The actual warden seems clueless (or, at worst, is turning a blind eye to what is going inside the walls), but Lt. Jackson, who runs the SHU, is a vindictive sadist who is running his own punishment regime within his section, and staging fights between prisoners for other guards to bet on.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: John Smith, the "veterano" Obi-Wan character. He took revenge on the guys who raped and murdered his family, but first he wiped out their families to "purify the madness" and to show them what the loss feels like. He then became a Death Seeker to end the cycle.
    Wade Porter on the intruder he chased and killed: "...Shoulda stayed inside, let him go."