Picks and Pans Review: Against the Wall
updated 03/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 03/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST
This film re-creates the violent inmate riot at New York's Attica prison in 1971, which resulted in the deaths of 32 convicts and 11 guards. (Memo to ABC: This would make an ideal topic for your fledgling newsmagazine Turning Point.) Kyle MacLachlan plays virginal correctional officer Michael Smith. Although Smith's father and uncle worked at the prison (folks in this small upstate town refer to the facility as the Factory), he's out of step with the other guards, who keep the prisoners in line by enforcing an oppressive procrustean code. Surprisingly, during the uprising, when the inmates lake control of the prison for a time, the softhearted Smith is the only one of the guards being held hostage who refuses to cooperate in any way with his captors.
The violence is unsparingly brutal. Director John Frankenheimer keeps the tension cranked up, though some of the charge is lost as the negotiations grind on and the focus shifts to Smith's cloudy conscientious objection.
A distinguished supporting cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, Frederic Forrest, Harry Dean Stanton, Clarence Williams III, Philip Bosco and Carmen Argenziano.