Judge Gordon Sullivan squats in the basement of an abandoned, haunted prison.
To Take Revenge, He Will Journey Into Hell
In August 2011, London police shot and killed a civilian, Mark Duggan. Evidence eventually demonstrated that Duggan was shot wrongfully. A peaceful protest march eventually led to rioting for almost a week in London and the surrounding environs. It was the boil-over from a long campaign of discontent at police actions and tension over austerity measures and immigration issues that large in Britain since the worldwide financial meltdown of 2008. Even two years later the reverberations of these incidents can still be felt in England. Sadly, they're being used as the backdrop for a run-of-the-mill prison revenge flick, Offender. It's bad enough that a serious national tragedy is being exploited by a low budget schlock-fest, but it's doubly insulting that Offender can't even justify such appropriation with a new idea.
Tommy (Joe Cole, Now is Good) lost his pregnant girlfriend to gang violence during the riots of 2011. Now he's getting himself put away in jail so he can exact revenge by killing all those involved in his wife's death. However, life on the inside isn't as simple as he thought it would be, though he'll stop at nothing to get his revenge.
I understand the allure of the prison as a setting for drama, especially revenge stories: it's all self-contained, in one low-price setting, pretty much all the characters are bad guys (so it's easy to root for their downfall), and there's an obvious end goal (getting out of jail or getting the bad guy). All this means that even the lowest of low-budget films can fake a prison setting and mash up enough disparate elements to make a drama. In that regard, Offender is just like all the countless other prison-house cheapies clogging the graveyard of drive-in and exploitation theaters.
That is ultimately the problem with Offender; it has virtually nothing to distinguish it from any other film set in a prison. It very much feels like checklist filmmaking. We have the requisite tragedy that convinces an otherwise decent human being to go to prison (and bonus points, I guess, for throwing in the unborn child angle), the usual hardcases in prison, and the common cast of guards. The one factor that could have distinguished it—the fact that it's connected to the London riots of 2011—ultimately makes it a worse movie not a better one. Instead of saying something interesting about the ways in which criminality, race, and class interacted to create a perfect storm of violence. Instead, Offender feels like cheap exploitation, attempting to cash in on some notoriety to elevate it from the standard direct-to-video prison flick. It's crass and ultimately boring exploitation of a genuine tragedy that doesn't significantly heighten the material.
Perhaps the only thing Offender has going for it is a solid lead performance from Joe Cole. He has to embody all the rage and grief over his dead wife and unborn baby and convincingly gain the resolve to go to prison to exact his revenge. It's a pretty impressive performance for someone so young and relatively new to acting. The rest of the cast—many of them from the music business—are quite a bit more forgettable (much like the film itself), but Cole will be one to watch.
The film is also aided by a decent DVD release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does a fine job presenting the film in its gritty style. This isn't a clean, bright transfer, but the prison and other environments retain an edgy, slightly desaturated appearance. It serves the film well, and black levels are consistent and pretty deep throughout. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track keeps dialogue clean and clear from the center—despite the accents everything is intelligible throughout. English subtitles are included though for those who have trouble with the various accents. The surrounds get some use for prison atmospherics as well, making it a nicely rounded track.
Extras start with some making of featurettes that cover the film's production. There are also some deleted scenes, music videos, and interviews with the cast. Together they give a solid idea of the film's production, though only hardcore fans will really appreciate the music videos.
Offender is a forgettable prison revenge drama. Though it isn't afraid to wear its contemporary trappings proudly on its sleeve, deep down it's just another one of countless throwaway prison flicks. Not even a decent central performance and solid DVD can make this one worth more than a rental, and only that for diehard fans of the prison-house genre.
Guilty of sticking too close to formula.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Revolver Entertainment
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