Like the 1980 Australian prison film Stir, this 2011 British entry in the genre offers not simply another portrait of life on the inside for the convicts, but an example of how the daily stress of the job can affect the outnumbered guards or “screws”.  James D’Arcy stars as Sam Norwood, an Iraq war veteran and rookie prison guard whose choice of civilian occupation only exacerbates his post-traumatic battle flashbacks.  Under the bad influence of fellow guard Deano (Frank Harper), Sam turns to drinking and hard drugs and eventually finds himself the subject of a police investigation.  Even worse, when drug-related organized crime inside the prison threatens Sam’s professional and personal lives, his behavior becomes increasingly erratic.  Twisting the knife in him psychologically is criminally connected inmate Truman (Noel Clarke).

D’Arcy’s performance deserves much of the credit for making Screwed an involving experience, and supporting players Harper and Jamie Foreman contribute believable grit and an air of experience.  That Sam Norwood is such a deeply flawed protagonist may limit the sympathy he can command, but it also raises the stakes and therefore the suspense that his situation generates.  Viewers discouraged by Screwed‘s somewhat drab exposition are advised to give the film more time, as it improves and intensifies as it builds towards its frightening riot climax.  Some moments, such as Sam’s verbal exchanges with his wife, feel overly familiar; and much of the mumbled, whispered dialogue, a challenge compounded by the working class British accents, may also frustrate the American audience; but Sam’s story draws the viewer in as it deepens and the situations become more unsettling and urgent.  Not a bad little film, Screwed earns 3 out of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Screwed is:

5. Anti-feminist.  “Don’t you sweetheart me, ya fuckin’ prick,” a tough-talking female guard says before being put out of commission with a punch in the face.  Sex-based workplace discrimination would seem to be in order here.

4. Antiwar.  Wars inevitably send home thousands, not only of the physically wounded, but psychologically damaged and brittle young men.

3. Diversity-skeptical.  Minorities can contribute to law enforcement, but figure more prominently among the convicts.  “Please tell me he ain’t shaggin’ her,” one guard says at the sight of one ogre-like brown prisoner receiving a white woman visitor.

2. Drug-ambivalent.  The liquor and hard drugs run the risk of ruining Sam’s career and marriage, but smoking cigarettes, as he does in solidarity with Rumpole (Foreman) in one scene, is the philosophically manly thing to do.

1. Anti-state.  Guards must deal not only with the occasionally vicious convicts, but with the corrupt and antagonistic “guv’ner” or warden (David Hayman) who sometimes likes to target guards for internal investigation and persecution so as to be able to present himelf as a liberal reformer.  Some among the guards are also crooks in addition to engaging in unnecessary brutality toward the prisoners.

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