For O'Brien (Penn) street life is preferable to listening to his mother entertaining men beyond the paper walls. During a bungled robbery O'Brien's speeding car kills the brother of another petty criminal who opens a private war by beating and raping O'Brien's girlfriend. Unemphatic about plot development, director Rosenthal prefers to develop our understanding of his characters and their living spaces, linking without undue insistence the cramped apartments and juvenile detention cells. In the one scene where O'Brien is seen in a bright light, in his girl's bedroom, he seems as pale and bewildered as a baby. Even the borstal staff are presented as compassionate but hopelessly weary. An oxygenated, thoughtful alternative to the usual run of gangs-in-the-slammer movies.