Dog Pound


Written by Chris Price
06 Monday 06th September 2010

Kids these days, eh? Always causing trouble, hanging out on street corners. Bit of national service, that’ll sort them out. Whether they’re trying to knife you on the N29, or they’re gibbering away on talk shows with their tampons hanging out, kids are irrevocably responsible for all the ills of the world.

Easy though it is to sling blind abuse at the Momsen’s and Bieber’s of the world for their attention-seeking outbursts or mutter disapprovingly of nutty packs of North London hoppers, it’s easy to forget that they are essentially still kids. They crave attention, they like making a noise, causing trouble and they always want stuff.
Dog Pound is a film by Kim Chapiron (last seen directing a maniacal Vincent Cassel in Satan), situated mid-triumvirate somewhere between a slightly less nihilistic Kids, a modern day Lord of the Flies and (the film that its been most referenced to) the excellent A Prophet / Une Prophete – though in comparison, the high-veneer aesthetics of DP makes it look a little like a knockabout teen drama in comparison to Audiard’s bleak grainy masterpiece.
It’s the story of three new juvenile delinquents, incarcerated at a youth correctional center. The gaunt Butch (a fantastic turn from Adam Butcher) long-time unit of the system provides the constant for the group; intrinsically virtuous, yet incendiary (in a slightly farcical Marty McFly kind of way) is quickly painted as the hero of the piece. Davis’ (Shane Kippel) preppy jock is immediately singled out as the square peg, imprisoned for a drugs misdemeanour yet from a strong family unit – he becomes the target of resident in-house bully Banks. Cherubic gang member Angel completes the trio, as a strident Latino miscreant from a messy home.
The most striking aspect of Dog Pound is its level-headed approach to its subject matter. It’s less about the demonization of the youth, and more about the instinctive hierarchical nature of young people plucked out of the normal world. The uneasy tension between authority figure and inmate, set in a stiflingly mundane environment provide all the potential for the inevitable flashpoints to come, plus the obligatory prison drama anal rape. (So it might go on, but surely it’s not integral to the plot of every prison movie ever?)
The film takes a strange arc by not directly focussing on the central characters themselves, but more so on the impact they have on the current serving inmates via their actions, and the characters they become during their sentence. The population are visualised as pack animals, grouping together in unfamiliar surroundings to survive, under the lead of a unifying individual. The guards are stoic and boisterous, providing an ambient barrier to the inmates, yet genuinely caring, and on hand to help when needs be.
The drama of the piece comes from the escalating disruptive effects of involvement from these figures out of their positions. Two standout scenes include a dodgeball game where when asked to group up, the kids all divide via skin colour and an anger management course that ends up in mass brawl.
It makes for some uncomfortable viewing. The uneasy equilibrium between the population and figures in authority makes the escalation of violence in the facility inevitable. The question of identity is also a recurring motif – each inmate’s personality segues them into the system. The guards, teachers and doctors all have theirs bestowed, and the lack of respect placed on a clerical hierarchy is evident.
Tight camerawork provides an intimate yet un-intrusive document. The notable exclusion of natural light and the repeated patterns of anthracite and lemon interiors lend a bleak monotony to their daily patterns, completely bereft of inspiration. Although the overall appearance of the whole film is polished, the film still retains a degree of gritty realism, thanks to the skills of cinematographerAndre Chemetoff. A range of assured authentic performances, including some cast culled from juvenile centers around the U.S. adds a stroke of authenticity.
Dog Pound is an excellent film, with many great strengths. The depiction of youngsters not yet lost to a world of crime and the potential for redemption is an optimistic and bold approach from the prison drama canon. The emphasis on the failings of the system, the weakness of the individual and the inhospitable environment that conspires to undo all the good intention works well in direct contradiction. It might appear a little HBO in process, but in the end we’re presented with an realistic cautionary tale of both the good and bad of U.S. correctional system, and how it can exacerbate the problems its there to sort out.



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