SCREWED (2011)

5 out 10

Release Date: 3rd June 2011

Director: Reg Bayliss (Anti-Social / Psychosis / Joy Division)

Cast: James D’Arcy, Frank Harper, Kate Magowan, Andrew Shim, Cal MacAninch, Ray Panthaki, David Hayman, Doug Allen, Tony Jayawardena, Martin Hancock, Everal Walsh with Jamie Foreman and Noel Clarke

Writer: Ronnie Thompson & Colin Batts

Trailer: SCREWED

UK prison movies seem to be becoming the new ‘gangster movie’.  This is the third in twelve months along with Offender and Ghosted.  Whilst all three are competent, its only the superior Ghosted that stands out and I’m sorry to report that that isn’t for a good reason. But read the Ghosted review to find out why.  Screwed guards the middle ground and is told from the prison officers’ or screws’ point of view.  Based on an autobiography by a former screw, Ronnie Thompson, this crams in so much incident that it makes your average stretch of porridge seem like ten episodes of Miami Vice.

The story follows ex-soldier Sam (JAMES D’ARCY – W/E.), an Iraq veteran who suffers from survivor’s guilt.  Unable to find a suitable job he gets co-erced into applying to be a screw by his wife.  He soon learns the tricks on the wings and also how bureaucracy falls on the side of the prisoner.  We see a good officer framed by a con for unnecessary violence just so that he can get the privileges he was used to at the last prison he was based at.   The warden is a career climbing, slimy politician (DAVID HAYMAN – THE NEAR ROOM).  He finds his hands are tied when trying to do his job when tackling a small circle of high ranking cons lead by Truman (NOEL CLARKE – HUGE).  Fellow screws are friendly but are basically worn down by the job to care about making crusades, especially head prison officer, Deano (FRANK HARPER – ST. GEORGE’S DAY).

Screwed is well acted and a competently told story but it feels stale. It’s following in the footsteps of one of the best prison movies ever made, Jacques Audiard’s Le Prophet.  Anything as pedestrian as this or the other two UK efforts mentioned have their work cut out to entertain.  The cast is brilliant across the board, even the unreliable Jamie Foreman (IRONCLAD) is really well cast and pulls off his role as one of the officers.  The main problem is that Sam doesn’t gain our sympathy or trust. He’s a wife beater (KATE MAGOWAN – STARDUST) and hardened drug taker due to his personal stresses but he’s a hard character to be onside with. When he uncovers a conspiracy inside the prison it’s more a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Or has it really come to the point where our cinematic heroes have to be rotten to women and emotionless coke fiends? Maybe.  At least this is a vast improvement on Offender (there are no English Franks to upset the acting equilibrium) but hasn’t got the engrossing characters seen in the superior but flawed Ghosted.  James D’Arcy as good as he is, is too posh to play hard men.  A problem I also had with his W/E co-star Richard Coyle in last week’s UK remake of Pusher.

5 out of 10 – Competent but let down by a plot that feels the need to make us go wow at the drop of a hat. It tries not to bore you but it ends up being very repetitive.  Good acting, good cast. OK film.

Review by Joe Pesci II below.>>!



One thought on “SCREWED (2011)

  1. SCREWED by Joe Pesci II

    SCREWED is sold under false pretences! It says it’s based on a book at the start, so I was watching this believing it to be a ‘true story’, but on the DVD cover it says ‘based on the novel’ i.e. not a true story. Which is it? We deserve to know! How much of this is melodrama and how much is fact? Having said that, it’s a pretty good film, if convoluted by a conspiracy theory which makes no sense, and a backstory which gets in the way.

    We start in Iraq, which is a mistake. (Many people would claim that Iraq was a mistake, but that’s an argument for another website; whereas I mean that the whole Iraq business is surplus to requirements here.) Our hero, a soldier called Sam (James D’Arcy on revelatory form) has a very bad day, and, following one trauma too many, faces a career crossroads: unemployment, drug dealer or prison warder? His wife (Kate Magowan – oblivious to her husband’s problems – largely because he never talks about them) packs him off to jail. So off he goes, unaware that he could probably have combined the prison warding with the drug dealing as several of his new colleagues do. (Actually I think that gives away the film’s ending. Sorry. I’ve got to stop doing that.) So he goes to a prison and does a spot of warding and meets officers played by the likes of Frank Harper (brilliant), Andrew Shim (too small surely?) and Jamie Foreman (not bad for once). And then there’s oily prison governor David Hayman, whose primary interest is self-promotion rather than prisoner welfare, protecting his staff or fair play.

    The prisoners run the usual gamut from self-proclaimed masterminds of crime (Noel Clarke giving probably his best performance, and having great fun making fun of D’Arcy’s Iraqi exploits) via idiots to psychotics to those who know how to play the system (Tony Jayawardena). We follow D’Arcy as he establishes himself, but at the same time his life falls apart.

    At the centre of it all is James D’Arcy as a decent man who falls apart and has no backup, and ends up dirtier than everyone around him. He looks suitably petrified on his first day, and it’s not much of a surprise to see his life spin out of control pretty quickly. For much of the film’s running time we seem to be following D’Arcy as he learns the ropes and finds his place in the pecking order, and the film’s episodic structure feels like it could well be a dramatisation of an autobiography. The problem comes when the plot kicks in. It all ends up revolving around the identity of a grass which seems to have an absurd pay-off, and the revelation of a conspiracy which is hardly surprising and wouldn’t someone be suspended if they were under investigation? It’s these little things which undermine the film’s feeling of authenticity. That, and the familiarity of the acting talent. Although everyone puts in a good turn across and right down the board, and there’s no hysterical ‘look-at-me’ acting, the film might have punched harder if it had been cast with unknowns. As it is it’s a more than competent drama, and D’Arcy is compelling as a protagonist falling prey to every demon available. But my word, that’s a lot of demons. He really does suffer from Jimmy McGovern syndrome. Not only has our hero got a nasty job, he also ends up an alcoholic drug addict who throws his wife out, and who gets on the wrong end of a conspiracy theory, and gets arrested, and ends up on the wrong side of the governor, and also manages to upset some of the more maniacal prisoners. Too many things going on; maybe that is indeed what life is like for a prison warder, but it’s too much for a film, so it loses focus. However, the film succeeds for the most part (in spite of a (very good) lead overburdened with misery) as a screw’s-eye-view of prison life.

    SCREWED has a lot to be angry about, but strangely it isn’t an angry film, perhaps because its targets sometimes seem confused. Early on one of the prison officers admits that it’s the prisoners who really run the jail. Later on it seems that this is just as well as a lot of the officers are corrupt. Even worse is the governor who is only too happy to sack officers for fictional attacks on prisoners so that he can look good as a tough reformer.

    I have no idea whether the film has any real claim to authenticity, but it certainly seems (to these untutored eyes) bleak and real enough. Although what we see is most certainly not glamorised or idealise, it is still strangely ‘clean’. I don’t particularly want to see, for example, intimate drug searches, or the state of prison toilets, but the film concentrates on hard blokes being hard and shies away from anything icky. What did I learn from SCREWED? Prison is possibly not the best place for a traumatised ex-soldier to find work. The screws are worse than the prisoners, and the governor is worse than the screws. (Mind you, PRISONER: CELL BLOCK H knew all this years ago.) It’s OK to blame all your ills on your wife. Never trust a cockney. SCREWED doesn’t seem too interested in taking matters further up the chain, which is a shame, as clearly politicians and the public at large are clearly culpable.

    More palatable than SCUM, not as funny as PORRIDGE, shorter than THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, this is a film which will make you think (though one of those thoughts is ‘how much can I believe of this?’), and probably make you a bit angry at how the justice system ignores the whole system of justice,
    but it needed to be more. Ultimately, for all its incidental detail, this isn’t really a prison film, it’s a police film set in a prison.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s