Edward Furlong is Ron Decker, a spoiled 18 year-old from a rich family who is arrested and sent to prison when he’s caught with a small amount of marijuana. Being younger and smaller than the other prisoners, Ron is soon being targeted by everyone from the prison’s Puerto Rican gang to the sadistic Buck Rowan (Tom Arnold). Fortunately, for Ron, prison veteran Earl Copen (Williem DaFoe) takes him under his wing and provides him with protection. Earl is the philosopher-king of the prison. As he likes to put it, “This is my prison, after all.” If he can stay out of trouble, Ron has a chance to get out early but, with Buck stalking him, that’s not going to be easy.
Based on a novel by ex-con Edward Bunker, Animal Factory was the second film to be directed by Bunker’s Reservoir Dogs co-stars, Steve Buscemi. Though it was overlooked at the time, Animal Factory is a minor masterpiece. Taking a low key approach, Buscemi emphasizes the monotony of prison life just as much as the sudden bursts of violence and shows why someone like Ron Decker can go into prison as an innocent and come out as an animal. DaFoe and Furlong give two of their best performances as Earl and Ron while a cast of familiar faces — Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, Chris Bauer, Mark Boone Junior — make up the prison’s population. Most surprising of all is Tom Arnold, giving Animal Factory‘s best performance as the prison’s most dangerous predator.