Lock Up comes from a time when action movies could still be dramas, too. Sylvester Stallone plays Frank Leone, a likable guy who had some bad run-ins with the wrong people and got framed. But he behaves well in prison, making no trouble at all – which, I gotta tellya, makes the first hour and twenty minutes of this movie a little bit slow-moving. If you’re waiting for the action to break out, that is. I was indeed, but on the other hand I was also quite absorbed by the human drama. Donald Sutherland plays the evil, evil warden, Drumgroole, who has a hate-on for Frank Leone from a previous encounter, and he is (almost) willing to stake his life and career on breaking Frank, and making sure he stays in prison for the rest of his life. Frank plays it cool, though, and only goes berserk towards the end, when the warden pushes him too far. There’s an electric chair involved, and guess who ends up in it …
By todays’ standards, the kind of action we would expect from a Stallone movie never really materialises until the climactic end, but it doesn’t matter too much; the movie is plenty engaging in a dramatic sense. Frank is befriended by a guy named Dallas, played quite memorably by a young Tom Sizemore – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better performance from Sizemore. And while it’s not a fair comparison as they are very different movies in terms of genre and the style of storytelling, I found pleasure in comparing Lock Up with this year’s latest Stallone actioner, Escape Plan, which shares a lot of themes with this movie – enough that the character he plays in the latter movie could very well be the exact same one as he plays in Lock Up. I enjoyed both of these movies more than I expected to.
The main emphasis in Lock Up is on enduring a tough daily life under the aegis of a corrupt, all-powerful regime, which in this case means in prison, but it could just as well symbolise any difficult life situation. The other characters are interesting and well-acted as well, and the movie never becomes dull, although one sometimes wishes it would move faster. The directing and the focus on real life (including Frank’s fiancee on the outside) is deft and convincing, infusing the story with more realism than you usually get in a typical action movie. This is the first time I’m watching Lock Up (and it looks great on Blu-ray; almost like it was filmed yesterday), and its prison theme makes me think of other prison-themed movies from the time, like Tom Selleck’s An Innocent Man (also from 1989) and a couple of Chuck Norris flicks as well. Periodically throughout the 80s, the prison environment was a popular setting, not just in movies, but also in American comic books such as The Punisher and Frank Miller’s Daredevil. There are many scenes from these movies and comics that are very similar and no doubt influenced by each other, and as someone who grew up in the 80s some of these scenes do actually carry some nostalgia value for me. Although Lock Up is light on actual fighting and violence, it remains a well-rounded movie that I’m glad to have now experienced. It’s not the kind of movie that calls for a replay anytime soon, but a movie can still be admirably well-crafted even so, like this one is.
Director: John Flynn
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland, Tom Sizemore, Larry Romano, John Amos, Frank McRae, Darlanne Fluegel and others.
Runtime: 109 min.