A construction worker accidentally kills an intruder in his home and finds himself incarcerated in a maximum security prison with a hardcore lifer who reluctantly teaches him the ins and outs of prison politics.
On the surface, Felon is a typical gang banger vs. skinhead/shower rape prison drama, but it is in fact surprisingly sophisticated. Stephen Dorff puts in a great performance as the “hero” who is not your usual “innocent man fighting an unjust system” from cliche and it shows in a believable way how a man who is decent at heart could become institutionalized. Val Kilmer is also excellent as his charismatic cell mate who knows that he will never be released and it shows prison not only from the point of view of the inmates, but also its effects on the guards and those left on the outside. It reminded me a little of Traffic for this reason and in a similar way frames its themes within a story that could be considered contrived, but its structure provides a solid framework that means it can avoid becoming desperately bleak and has a satisfying conclusion that doesn’t get too schmaltzy.
Felon was a real surprise and ranks as one of the best prison films I’ve seen in a long while.