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Case Number 10734

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Jailbait

Lightyear Entertainment // 2006 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Rafael Gamboa (Retired) // February 1st, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Rafael Gamboa hopes to catch lots of jails with this bait. Oh, God, what an awful pun!

The Charge

"I'm your friend. Without me, you got nothing."

Opening Statement

I think the film has the misfortune of having a title that sounds a little too much like something Hustler would produce, but don't make the mistake of passing off this tiny little gem of a film because of it. Jailbait is an intense and subtle psychological examination, and a film that showcases what a talented filmmaker can accomplish when confined to tell a story that spends 85 percent of its time in a cell slightly larger than your typical bathroom.

Facts of the Case

Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) plays Randy, a teenage three-time felon sentenced to 25 years in prison under the authority of California's three-strikes law. His cellmate is Jake (Stephen Adly Guirgis, Palindromes), a man sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. Put them together, and…well, stuff happens.

The Evidence

This is a fine example of a script-centric film, where the strength of the writing carries the film past the obstacles of the narrative's cinematic restrictions. The cinematography of the film is dictated by the claustrophobic setting. The camera has no choice but to be confined by its surroundings, imprisoned along with its subjects for the duration of the film. As oppressive as this threatens to be, first-time writer-director Brett C. Leonard manages to slip outside of the visual trap by intelligently pouncing on every opportunity he could get to shoot something at relative distance to open the space of the film and through subtle editing that breaks the optical monotony with well-placed short interludes of black space. This was ostensibly the film's greatest challenge, and it surpassed it with ease and in a manner that is self-effacing, allowing the narrative to take center stage.

The story itself is interesting because it's not action-driven; rather, it's a motive-driven story. In other words, it's not what happens that matters, but why. It's about human interaction, and through it, how each of these two characters operates and survives mentally and emotionally. Randy is a kid who seems unable to function as an individual. He can barely read, doesn't seem to know how to tie a tie, and seems lacking in general intelligence. He is almost deathly taciturn, though it is uncertain how much of that is a personality trait and how much of it is because he isn't particularly literate. Jake, on the other hand, seems much more streetwise than Randy. He's coarser than sandpaper covered in thumbtacks and unabashedly bigoted, but at the same time seems to have strong religious and family convictions—and he does have a certain charm about him. He is a ceaseless talker; words and conversation are a necessary therapy for him, and are pretty much used as a panacea for any and all rough spots he and Randy encounter.

It is a finely balanced film as well; the protagonist figure, Randy, is not entirely worthy of one's sympathy. He's an idiot who got thrown in jail because of his own sheer thoughtlessness. However, he isn't a vicious bloodthirsty serial killer either; he's just a dumb kid in way over his head. As the antagonist, Jake is entirely more likeable. He's cool and easy going. Moreover he seems to be right more often than he's wrong. But at the same time, this man slit his wife's throat, and has no compunction against committing other violent and violating actions either. The viewer is not allowed to side with either of them, which completes the film's near-total ambiguity. Who to blame? What to blame, if at all? The ending provides no closure either, merely hinting at what the rest of Randy's time in prison might be like. Does he really deserve it all? Is Jake really his friend? Nothing is certain except that Randy has to endure 25 years of the same, if he survives that long.

Closing Statement

Good film. Worth it.

The Verdict

I'm enjoying the irony of acquitting a film that's already incarcerated. Anyway, check this movie out.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 65
Acting: 98
Story: 100
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile

Studio: Lightyear Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer

Accomplices

• IMDb








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