Year: 2000
USA: Silver Nitrate Releasing
UK: Optimum Releasing
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Seymour Cassel, Mickey Rourke, Steve Buscemi, Tom Arnold, John Heard, Danny Trejo, Jake La Botz, Afemo Omilami, Mark Boone, Edward Bunker, Christopher Bauer, Michael Buscemi, James Martin Kelly, Mark Webber, Brian Anthony Wilson, Tony Devon, Richard Mercer Walls, Freddie Ganno, Joilet Harris, John Lumia, Sal Mazzotta, Patrick McDade, Paul L Nolan, Wendee Pratt, Jonny Spanish, Mark Webber
Director: Steve Buscemi
Country: USA
USA: 90 mins
UK: 94 mins
USA Rated: R for strong language, violence and drug use
UK Certificate: 15 contains strong language and moderate violence, drug use and sex references
USA Release Date: 20 October 2000 (Limited Release - Los Angeles and New York)
UK Release Date: 4 July 2003


Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) is a handsome, athletic 25 year old and the product of a comfortable Beverly Hills upbringing. He has been sentenced to spend at least two years of a ten-year jail term in San Quentin prison for dealing drugs.

In the gritty and often violent world of the U.S. penal system, Ron tentatively watches the day-to-day routine of the prison unfold around him. The varying factions settle vendettas, old and new, with seemingly no consequences from the authorities.

Ron's presence is noticed by Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), a career criminal serving a 25-year sentence. Copen has the whole prison in his pocket and a connection to all the guards and officials. Due to his power, nothing happens in San Quentin without Copen's sanction. He takes a liking to Ron and arranges for him to have an easy job assisting the prison education officer.

Completely inured to the commonplace violence around him everyday, Ron finds himself mortally stabbing another inmate who attempted to accost him. Learning that his two-year term could be extended to six years, Ron defends himself at the hearing. He makes an impassioned speech about the injustice and failure of the prison system. However, his words fail to move the judge and his jail time is increased.

Desperate for freedom, Ron schemes with Earl to break out of prison. They plan to flee to another country and start new lives. Earl masterminds the escape plan. At the last moment, he turns back, letting Ron escape by himself.

At that moment when freedom stared him in the face Earl realized that being a powerful and important man in a harsh prison was more rewarding to him then the struggle of surviving on the outside. "Better to reign in hell then serve in heaven.", he jokes to his gang of inmate cronies.