out of Five
Running time: 110
Watchable collection of prison movie clichés, enlivened by strong performances and pacey direction.
What's it all about?
Directed by Reg Traviss, Screwed is based on the book by warden-turned-author Ronnie Thompson and stars James D'Arcy as soldier Sam Norwood, who returns from a tour in Afghanistan, still haunted by visions of his best friend dying in his arms. Pressured by his wife (Kate Magowan), Sam reluctantly takes a job as a prison warden at HMP Romwell, where he's quickly shown the ropes by friendly head screw Deano (Frank Harper).
However, Sam quickly learns that his new job brings its own set of problems: the governor (David Hayman) is corrupt, some of the screws are spoiling-for-a-fight psychopaths and even the seemingly straight wardens seem happy to turn a blind eye to the drug dealing activities of soft-spoken D Block kingpin Truman (Noel Clarke). On top of that, the stress of the job and peer pressure from Deano (they bond after Sam saves Deano from a potential stabbing) leads Sam to join him in his nocturnal coke-snorting, strip-club visiting after-work activities and it isn't long before Sam's marriage is in trouble ...
D'Arcy delivers a solid lead performance as Sam, striking a compelling balance as a man who has to trade on his hard-nut ex-squaddie image to survive but is still psychologically shattered. Frank Harper (one of British cinema's most dependable hard-man character actors – you'll know the face) is excellent as Deano and there's strong support from the likes of Jamie Foreman (cast against type as a senior warden), David Hayman (nicely chilling as the guv'nor) and Andrew Shim (as a fellow screw), while Noel Clarke is effective as Truman, particularly in the scenes where he quietly taunts Sam.
Traviss keeps things moving at a decent pace, aided by some presumably ruthless editing, since it occasionally seems that the story has jumped forward and a few scenes are missing. The violent scenes are well-handled too, visceral and shocking but still realistic rather than over the top and stylised.
It's fair to say that the script is essentially a collection of well worn prison clichés, though they're effectively marshalled and deliver the requisite prison-based thrills. However, the supposedly shocking final reel revelation isn't quite the jaw-dropper the film thinks it is, particularly if you've ever seen a prison movie before.
It's never going to trouble anyone's top ten list of prison movies, but Screwed is an entertaining British prison drama with strong performances and some assured direction from Reg Traviss.