If you imagine Andy Dufresne clambering out of the mud at the end of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and immediately embarking on a hyper-violent gangland crime spree, you’ve got the basic premise of this solemn, thoughtful thriller about the corrosive power of prison.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau essays that descent as Jacob ‘Money’ Harlon, a family man locked up for causing the death of his business partner while drunk behind the wheel. Sentenced to 30 months in Chino prison, he finds himself falling under the protection of the jailyard neo-Nazis led by Bottles (Jeffrey Donovan, well-spoken and utterly sinister) and becomes first their mule, then their henchman. Even when he’s released, his obligations to the crew don’t end. Cue drive-bys, burners, illegal shipments of guns and one or two moments of stomach-turning violence.
Cramming this arc into two hours inevitably feels rushed. Coster-Waldau never has the time to sketch his character in detail, making his post-prison encounters with his estranged wife (a rarely seen Lake Bell) and son feel underpowered. More impactful are his encounters with Holt McCallany, pumped up like a goateed dirigible as an Aryan called ‘The Beast’, and director Ric Roman Waugh shows a keen eye for the rituals of prison life and the clammy intimacy of violence. It’s a decent movie, but it might have been a great TV show.