A well-meaning but woefully misguided political statement, Imprisoned, directed by Paul Kampf, fails to be particularly compelling as a drama, thriller, or romance. Elevated by solid performances, but otherwise entirely forgettable, this film is clumsily-made and unevenly-written.
The movie follows a recently released ex-con trying to start anew in his life with his true love at his side, when he is framed for a murder he did not commit by the warden of the local prison who holds a long-standing judge against him. Although this story shows the potential for some interesting developments to occur, it ultimately plays out in the most melodramatic and least entertaining way possible.
Ultimately, the film’s message boils down to one of compassion. People are not defined by their mistakes, and so one should treat others with respect and humanity, even if they can’t entirely forgive the other party for what they did. This is a very noble statement, but it is delivered in a way that feels overly didactic, making the movie feel even more maudlin.
The character development in the film is the main strength of the script. Because of the terrible situation in which he finds himself, the protagonist is immediately sympathetic. The movie doesn’t linger on his past, instead emphasizing his desire to be better than his mistakes and become a contributing member of society again. His love interest is also compelling because of her devotion to the protagonist.
However, the film doesn’t quite hit all of the emotional beats for which it aims. There are a few things that happen in the story that are absolutely horrifying, but they do not have the full impact that is should. Had these scenes played out for a bit longer, or had the dialogue been written in a different way, these scenes could have been entirely heartbreaking, allowing the movie to work much better.
Additionally, the television-level quality of much of the execution does not help with the film’s resonance. There are a few good moments here and there, but for the most part, the movie looks cheap and artificial. Perhaps most disappointing about the film’s visuals is that it was shot in Puerto Rico, yet the movie looks generic, as if it could have been anywhere, not taking advantage of the unique setting.
The redeeming quality about this film is the cast. Laurence Fishburne gives a solid supporting performance, and although it is not among his best work, he is carrying the movie firmly on his shoulders, being the only thing that gives the film real stakes. The cast also includes Edward James Olmos and John Heard, among others, but they feel criminally underused in small roles.
In many ways, Imprisoned is a disappointment. Although there was plenty of potential for this to be a meaningful and impactful movie about the need for social change, it is unfortunately too inconsistent to make any real impact.
Imprisoned hits theaters on September 13.