“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1991 / Actors: F. Murray Abraham, Michael Beach, John Toles-Bey, Jay Brazeau, Alec Burden ... / DVD released 2007-01-09 at Republic Pictures / Features of the DVD: Closed-captioned, Colour, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC „
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I saw the cast list mentioning both Martin & Charlie Sheen which interested me, the story being set in a military prison also interested me. Having Lawrence Fishburne (pretty early in his career as he was still going by Larry Fishburne which made me wonder if Martin Sheen had remembered working with him in Apocalypse Now) in the cast also influenced me and knowing Martin Sheen directed got me even more curious. Watching the opening credits I thought the name Ramon Estevez felt very familiar and it turns out he is in fact Charlie Sheens older brother and Martin Sheens 2nd oldest son.
Set in 1965 the story starts with Franklin Bean (Charlie Sheen) on leave in Montana to attend the funeral of his father before returning to Wittsberg in Germany. In a drunken emotional binge afterwards he gets himself 2 visible tattoos on his hands before jumping through the window of a bar. In hospital (because he got glass in his skull) he is told he could do 90 days in the stockade or go to court martial and face a possible 3 year stretch. Actually his lawyer is pretty bad as he committed the offence off duty in a civilian bar so realistically the German police would have handled it. His lawyer claims he hit an MP (it was a light shove if anything) and Frank is coerced into accepting the 90 days in the stockade even though he asked for a discharge.
Beans Army lawyer clearly isn't very good, I'd have had him free in days with no jail time at all, you have to take his bereavement into account. We then see him entering the stockade where he meets Master Sgt Otis McKinney (played by his father and director of this film, Martin Sheen) then his fellow prisoners who are all black. Even though segregation was over by this time there were still racial rifts in America and the service so this film is playing heavily on that theme here.
We meet more of the Stockade staff including Cpl Gessner (Ramon Estevez, Charlies older brother who looked like a dead ringer for Charlie when he played Wild Thing in Major League) and Cpl Lamar and follow the prisoners on their work detail and their lives within the barracks. Punishments (or Gigs) are handed out for even the most seemingly inoffensive offenses and we also see the gradual bond formed between Bean and his fellow prisoners after a fight that he doesn't rat them out for.
You have to question why McKinney himself isn't arrested by the MP's for his drunken outburst after failing to speak to his son on his own birthday, far too much leeway was shown by lamar & Gessner. I did quite enjoy seeing the other guys trying to teach Bean how to do their cadence dance, especially the sequence where they are practicing it on the work detail farm as the soundtrack plays a match by Souza. McKinney tries to make friends with Bean who calls him a bully and says he hates everything he stands for, hearing this makes McKinney shut down Beans project to repair a windmill on the work farm. They disregard his orders and repair it anyway.
Taking them to the work farm during the night McKinney offers them the chance to escape knowing he can shoot them if they try, its clear that when McKinney talks to Bean he has had some kind of breakdown as he calls him by his sons name and is clearly trying to battle some inner demons about that relationship. This is pretty much confirmed when he starts shooting at one of the prisoners (Sweetbread, a quiet but slightly simple minded man) who had wandered off without McKinney issuing any kind of warning or challenge as an armed person is required to before opening fire. By the time the 7th shot is fired it is clear Sweetbread was coming back (even though he actually wasn't trying to escape) and is killed by the 8th shot (McKinney couldn't have fired again, there were only 8 rounds in the clip),
Beans sentance is commuted so he can rejoin his unit shipping out to Vietnam whilst a trial is held against McKinney with the clear intent it is for show only and the prisoners are pretty much ignored as the proscution lawyer (the same guy who forced Bean to accept 90 days in the stockade) chooses to whitewash the evidence to get McKinney off the charge ofm murder. Theres the rather cleverly hidden Sheen family reference as the MP who lets Bean in to see McKinney in the Psych Adin ward is called Estevez (Charlie & Martin Sheens real surname) whats also quite fun is the guy playing the MP is former Jafar Teal'c better known as Christopher Judge from Stargate SG1. Its probably unintentionally ironic that the flag is being lowered as Bean leaves from visiting McKinney just to underline the fact that McKinneys reign as a figure of authority is well and truly over.
I was a bit unsure why Lamar & Gessner salute Bean (he is only a Private and they were both Corporals) but I see it as them acknowledging his return to Army life. Its a very open end to the movie, possibly a little too open as it would have been nice to have seen either Lamar or Gessner promoted and in charge and a more definate idea on the condition of McKinney. If you like Military movies or prison movies I'd recommend this, its also very good for the performances of the whole Sheen clan and the other prisoners.