A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
The author of this review seems to adopt more conservative views with time. One manifestation of this phenomenon is decreased level of understanding for liberal Hollywood filmmakers and their promotion of kind-hearted progressive teachers as a cure for drugs, poverty, crime, violence and other inner-city problems. This is the reason why approached SHACKLES, 2005 prison drama directed by Charles Winkler, with great deal of scepticism.
The protagonist of the film is Ben Cross (played by D.L. Hughley), unemployed high school teacher who had sent one of his pupils into coma and now has great difficulties in finding work. The only opportunity comes in the form of special school program for juvenile delinquents and young offenders in Schakleton detention facility. Cross has a task of attracting certain number of inmates to the classrooms in order to have the program continued. After few unsuccessful attempts, he discovers that Gabriel Garcia (played by Jose Pablo Cantillo), one of his rebellious pupils, has a great talent for poetry. He decides to organise a poetry slam in prison, but his efforts are frowned upon by conservative prison administration.
SHACKLES doesn't stray from the ground countless other Hollywood films have covered - both the teacher with murky past and its violent students find path to redemption; the art is a magical wand that channels youthful energy into something more constructive than violence; noble efforts or bridging the class and race divide are thwarted by soulless bureaucracy and repressive establishment. What makes this film bearable is the fact that SHACKLES tells an old story in occasionally inventive way. Winkler's use of HDTV technology and split screens make SHACKLES look interesting, raw and almost documentary. The casting, based on young and relatively unknown actors, also helps the film, especially in the case of Cantillo who convincingly portrayed youthful angst. Because of that the generally good impression of the film survives heavy-handed sentimental finale where the authors spell their message to the audience with the subtlety of Donald Rumsfeld's military strategy. There is one thing in SHACKLES better than a film itself - poetry, which will sound powerful and attractive even to those who don't subscribe to filmmakers' views.
RATING: 5/10 (++)