9 March 2007 | lost-in-limbo
Don't take your life for granted.
The smart-mouth and racially arrogant Harold Morris gets convicted for armed robbery and murder. He takes the fall for the ones who actually did the job, but since he was the getaway driver. He gets two life sentences, and finds acting all tough doesn't mean you'll make it behind these bars. Warden Kelso is put into the situation, where he has to integrate the inmates. Morris and a black man Doc are used as guinea pigs for the experiment to hopefully unify the races. What starts of as bickering, turns to respect and the two groups form an unbeatable basket team that travels the states. Morris also has his own personal involvement with a young boy (prison's nurse's son) who gives him hope and goes on to inspire him to become speaker to the younger generation.
"Unshackled" happens to be a thoughtful, feisty, natural and inspired straight to DVD prison drama, which is based upon a true story. Even with its limited budget, Harold Morris' story and its characters hold up quite well and emotionally keep the viewer engaged with it's fighting spirit to never give in and to always look at the positives of life. This indeed does kind of get very preachy and overdrawn towards the latter end. They could've cut off tack on live footage, but the feel good nature is wonderfully handled and always insightful. What feels like it's going to be your basic prison life cycle with the stereotypical clichés, actually slowly builds upon the film's developing relationships and that of the integration process with colourful results. The rich script begins off with plenty of quick-witted and tough dialogues, but then becomes particularly warm and graceful in depicting the hardship. A nice sense of humour comes to be very agreeable with the material. Humane performances are achieved by the excellent two leads Burgess Jenkins and James Black. There's a believable rapport formed when they seem to find common ground. Giving tremendous support are the lovely Morgan Fairchild and a laid-back Stacy Keach as Warden Kelso. Bart Patton stringently directs and gets some suspenseful and touching scenes done. While it might not be hard boiled or have that gritty look from its prison settings, it still can get rough and spin up some attitude. The stirringly southern musical score is well orchestrated and the cinematography is adeptly manoeuvred.
For some people its message could comes across as too heavy. It hasn't converted me, but I found it to be an intriguingly meaningful character story.