9 October 2020 | Dan1863Sickles
Long On Facts, Short On Drama
Great movie if you're looking to get the facts about what actually happened during the Attica Prison Riot in 1971. But the writers were obviously so concerned with being fair and accurate that they forgot about stuff like drama, action, and humor, and atmosphere.
The only entertaining thing about this movie is that the casting is all over the map. Morgan Freeman is slotted perfectly into his usual role -- the dignified, thoughtful older black man who desperately wants to keep the young bloods from doing anything foolish. He found a role that worked for him, and even though he's quite young in this picture he plays the part like a man decades older.
At the other extreme is Anthony Zerbe, wildly miscast as hippy lawyer William Kunstler. A long time friend and collaborator of Charlton Heston's, Zerbe is best remembered today for his chilling portrayal of "Brother" Matthias, a freaked out mutant cult leader in the science fiction classic THE OMEGA MAN. Now the irony is that Zerbe brilliantly underplayed Matthias' psychotic mania, giving him an urbane, civilized air even as he was trying to roast Charlton Heston alive. Yet here, as a hippy lawyer who believes in peace and brotherhood, Zerbe chews the scenery and rolls his eyes incessantly, as though grooving on his own righteousness. It's hilarious, but not very convincing.
Young David Harris plays T.J. He's the gullible young black convict who believes that revolution is right around the corner. You'll never guess what happens to him at the end of the movie! Ironically, David Harris was red hot at this time, coming off his role as Cochise in the teen-gang classic THE WARRIORS. But while in that movie he could convey brutal power and menace with barely a glance, here he bleats "black power" in a hypnotized, childlike sing-song that makes him come across as more pathetic than anything else. From here it was all down hill, and Harris was last seen playing Denzel Washington's weak-willed sidekick Smalls in A SOLDIER'S STORY. "Now Peterson, he told me, uh, don't desert, but when that train start coming I just run, suh! C.J. he tole me to!"