The United States was harboring nearly three million inmates as of last year. It’s a shocking statistic. But even more shocking is cinemas inability to capitalize on a prisoner’s capitulation—or lack thereof. The mind wanders in a cell even when you’re woefully stuck in place. So how is it that the sub-genre continually lacks any thought of originality?
Heartlock, the latest prison break film, is comfortably conservative without being especially exciting. For one thing, you will find that you have been around this block before. This time it’s a maximum security prison in New York. A run of the mill joint with dingy white walls, dingy white prison guards, and dingy white drugs. It’s just the sort of place most people would be looking to escape.
Serving 19 years for armed robbery, Lee is wrestling with similar thoughts. His only distraction is the fleeting memory of his lover, an image he holds onto with unswerving devotion. (Lee is played by Alexander Dreymon of The Last Kingdom. And his switch to stiff and pensive doesn’t suit him as well as the armor). Quietly hopeful and explosively troubled—he throws more tantrums than a toddler– Lee looks to his pal Continental (Erik LaRay Harvey stealing the show) for a way out.
“Continental suggests Lee must find a ‘duck’—prison talk for turning a senseless guard into a blackmailed accomplice…”
Continental suggests Lee must find a “duck”—prison talk for turning a senseless guard into a blackmailed accomplice. Having got his ducks in order, he begins to seduce Tera (Lesley-Ann Brandt). A dutiful female turnkey who was once a schoolmate of Lee’s. He believes that in luring Tera in, she could help him escape. The question becomes: Does he really love her, or was this all an act? I won’t spoil that here. But what I can say is that the flirting is about as sexy as an un-mopped cell floor—and less wet, too. There’s a fundamental dissonance between the extent of his circumstance and the silliness of the script. (Jon Kaufman and Chris Cummings wrote the screenplay).
In scene after scene, Heartlock settles for sequences of conventional action. Daily assaults, drug busts, and underground conspiracies take the place of psychological distress. What’s missing is what made similar escape films Escape from Alcatraz, and A Man Escaped so moving: documentary-esque simplicity, along with willful warmth, and a transporting atmosphere.
“Television stars Dreymon and Lesley prove that they are ready for big screen roles…”
Lee, who looks like a thinner Channing Tatum, is just never likable. Television stars Dreymon and Lesley prove that they are ready for big screen roles, but their star crossed lovers are about as convincing as Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda escaping jail surfing a tsunami in Escape from L.A.
Still, something must be said for director Jon Kaufman’s ambitious undertones. His camera always makes sure to catch the American flags sticking out on the guard’s uniforms, arguing that maybe the prison system is no better than the prisoners. It’s a thoughtful notion, which makes it a shame that this tale on justice is so unjustly told. No matter the convincing performances and poignant points regarding politics in the prison community, this deadly dull drama doesn’t get away with a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Heartlock (2019) Directed by Jon Kaufman. Written by Jon Kaufman, Chris Cummings. Starring, Alexander Dreymon, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Erik LaRay Harvey, Cedric Young, Wayne David Parker.