Against the Wall

Some of the best movies are made for cable. This one, an HBO original, is a brutal, complex, tough-minded drama set inside Attica during the 1971 riot. Kyle MacLachlan is ideally cast as Michael Smith, the Pollyanna-ish rookie guard who believes inmates should be treated humanely (and is therefore treated humanely, more or less, by the inmates once he and the other guards are taken hostage). Among the prisoners are Samuel L. Jackson (right before Pulp Fiction broke), as a levelheaded Muslim who wants minimal bloodshed and forges a bond with Smith, and Clarence Williams III as a wild-eyed revolutionary itching for revenge on the guards. Entertainment Weekly panned it as “yet another diatribe about how the tradition of ‘60s protest was the ruin of America,” a grotesque misreading of what it’s really a diatribe against — lack of compassion on both sides of the bars and both sides of the social/political spectra. It does this, refreshingly, without big speeches or big “moments.” It also gets us to see the prisoners as humans even after we’ve cringed at the fairly frightening riot in the film’s first half. MacLachlan may not have much in his repertoire but virtuous all-Americans, but, like James Stewart, he excels at finding the complexities and hesitancies in them. It’s one of his better performances outside the Lynch-verse. This taut, ballsy film proved the 64-year-old John Frankenheimer hadn’t lost his touch.

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Explore posts in the same categories: biopic, drama, one of the year's best

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