Picks and Pans Review: First Time Felon
Charles S. Dutton has been there. Before launching his acting career (Roc, The Piano Lesson) he served more than seven years in prison between the late '60s and mid-'70s for manslaughter (committed in a street fight at age 17) and other offenses. So this TV movie is an appropriate project for his directorial debut. Based on fact, it's the earnest drama of a Chicago gang member (Omar Epps) convicted of drug dealing and sentenced as a first-time felon to a rural boot-camp program run by a steely-eyed William Forsythe. Through the inmates' participation in efforts to save a small town from flooding, Epps develops a sense of worth that he tries to maintain after returning to the outside world. But the coldness of the job market and the pull of the streets threaten to make his new life a short one. Dutton and writer Daniel Thierrault go overboard on occasion (Epps seemingly tries to hold back the raging Mississippi River by himself), and we question their decision to reduce an important part of the story to a brief postscript. But Epps earns our sympathy over the long haul, Delroy Lindo is superb as a driven boot-camp guard, and Dutton has a striking cameo as a jailed gang elder with blood in his eye.
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