Engaging and enjoyable look at the world of San Quentin
Outside San Francisco is one of America's bigger jails San Quentin where some of the most violent criminals are housed. Theroux has guarded access to the prison and the yard areas where he talks with prisoners about life inside, the divisions formed by race, the experiences of inmates new to the prison system as well as the various characters inside from transsexuals to gangbangers to white supremacists.
Although he has no shortage of weird and wonderful groups in the real world, Louis Theroux is not short of subjects in the intimidating and confined world of San Quentin prison. However what he does not have is a specific individual or group of individuals to specifically spend time with, bond with and coax out in the way he normally does and from the very start I was wondering how he would cope with this. Rather than a group being his subjects in this case, the world of prison is and he structures the film accordingly by drawing on a range of characters that challenge and intrigue the viewer. From Oz I have come to believe many prison clichés and it is interesting to see these dramatised roles and situations play out in reality, however Theroux manages to find some weird characters too.
What surprised me most though was how articulate and engaging everyone was. OK so most speak in the street slant that many (wrongly) dismiss as being a sign of low intelligence but I found myself drawn in by them. Accordingly Theroux doesn't need to push his "naive Englishman abroad innocently asking questions" shtick too hard because the guys are all willing and able to talk. The effect is to present a totally different world without passing judgement, scoring political points or pushing an agenda. The downside of this is that it may feel a little open and not having a point to conclude on but this is a small price worth paying because otherwise the film is engaging and enjoyable worth seeing even if Theroux's style normally grates on you.