Pets in Prison
Busted for drug dealing Joan (Ellen Burstyn) finds herself in prison and shutting herself off from everyone having grown tired of living. But it is inside that she meets Sister Pauline Quinn (Laura Dern) who having had a rough childhood and becoming pregnant as a teenager turned her life around through the love of a dog. It is that experience which sees her come up with a prison programme where prisoners help train dogs for disabled people. Despite initially wanting nothing to do with the programme or Sister Quinn Joan eventually relents and starts to help out. But things don't go smoothly from jealousy amongst the prisoners to an incident where having been attacked a dog bites a prisoner and they have to fight to prevent not only the dog being put down but the programme from being terminated.
Technically "Within These Walls" is a prison movie but it certainly isn't a gritty prison movie as this is a tale of positivity and how the introduction of these dogs brings a change in some of the hardened prisoners especially Joan. In truth whilst it tries to show how tough things are in prison the grittiest it gets is the opening scene with Ellen Burstyn looking nothing like you will have seen her look before.
Now let me say that right from the word go "Within These Walls" is predictable as you can guess this movie based on real people is not only going to end on a positive note but have certain dramas along the way. Some of those dramas such as issues between the inmates is nothing less than expected whilst some issues such as when a dog attacks a prisoner is a little let obvious as is the subplot surrounding Sister Quinn's back story. But in a strangely easy to watch manner it works as to sound like a broken record it will uplift you by the end.
The key to why this works is down to the central casting starting with Ellen Burstyn who seriously impresses during those opening scenes as a rough drug user and dealer. I have never seen Burstyn play such a rough character before and to put it simply she looks haggard. But Burstyn continues to impress in those first few scenes in the prison, cold, tough and frankly quite intimidating. But whilst Burstyn gives us tough Laura Dern gives us saintly but in a very warming way which makes her easy to like even if she at times come across a little too good to be true as Sister Quinn.
What this all boils down to is that "Within These Walls" is an enjoyable prison movie for those looking for an uplifting movie rather than a gritty drama. But whilst not gritty Ellen Burstyn's haggard look and toughness will blow you away as it is very different to what you expect from the actress.