Dog Pound (2010) dir. Kim Chapiron
Starring: Adam Butcher, Shane Kippel, Mateo Morales, Slim Twig, Dewshane Williams
By Alan Bacchus
One of the most suprising international co-pro collaborations has to be French-Canadian film Dog Pound, originated by a group of edgy French filmmakers, but shot in New Brunswick with Canadian actors. It played earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, but none of the other major festivals, including Toronto, and now sees a straight to DVD release. It’s a shame, at once it’s a familiar story, a prison film, juvenile prison that is, featuring teenagers locked up for various malfeasant beheaviour. But it's the combination of classic prison film tropes, that hip (Parisian)French toughness and one helluva breakout performance which makes this a fine under-the-radar winner.
Canadian viewers will recognize co-lead Shane Kippel as Spinner from Degrassi The Next Generation. He’s a different actor in a different role here though. He provides a solid co-anchor to this film as Davis a teenaged drug peddler set up for possession and intent to sell and who now finds himself in juvie. After arriving in prison, he seeks to keep to himself and not make waves. But when a particularly nasty bully with two thugs steal his boots he becomes bitch #1 for the local heavies.
Davis finds a protector in Butch (Adam Butcher), a rebellious youth locked up for beating up another guard in another prison. Though tall in stature, he's an unassuming kid, but suppressing a deep deep desire to bust the heads of the bullies who pick on his mates.
Eventually rage rears its head, and Butch the maniac is unleashed with uncompromising force. Same with the performance of Adam Butcher, which is so astounding, it's a star making performance which unfortunately just might get lost. At least to the public - the Hollywood system has a knack of finding and coddeling talent, and with the instantly iconoclastic performance on display in this film, Butcher should be a star very soon.
Other than the breakout of Butcher, the pedigree of this film is fascinating. The filmmaking team seems to comes from a new school of hip young French filmmakers. Chapiron (a male) turned heads with his audacious 2006 horror/thriller film Sheitan starring Vincent Cassel. Scrolling through the end credits and you just might miss Romain Gavras as the 2nd unit director. His first feature just premed at TIFF here, 'Our Day Will Come' also starring Cassel. That film wasn't all that great, but showed enough promise to take him (oh yeah, he's also the son of Costa-Gavras) very seriously.
And lastly, scroll down in the credits even further and you'll see this film is actually a remake of an Alan Clarke film, Scum. Clark of course provided the source material for Gus Van Sant's Elephant, and in general is one of the most highly influential British television directors of the 60's, 70's and 80's..
Dog Pound is not perfect. Chapiron's script isn't as tight as it could be. The plotting gets spotty as plot threads and character arcs jump around. He also relies on the some stock characters, specifically the unsentimental prison guards, and familiar prison situations (yes, people get anally raped). But it's Chapiron's blanket of tension and chaos and his awesome set pieces of violence and destruction which smooth over any bumps in the road. I've visited a prison and spoken to immates and it's fucking scary, really scary. This is not Shawshank Redemption, this is badass, emotionally draining, in-your-face reality-based cinema.
So what gives? Perhaps the timing wasn't good, in the past year we've seen other art house prison film such as Bronson, Hunger, A Prophet all make waves in festivals. Sadly Dog Pound, and one of the best performances of the year, Adam Butcher, seems to get lost in the shuffle. So please discover this one on DVD.
Dog Pound is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Alliance Films in Canada