A brutal, compelling slice of prison life, popularly described as “raw and powerful.”The very stagey action (the material originated as a critically lauded play by screenwriter Miguel Piñero, an ex-con who has a small role here) unfolds in a racially divided New York pen — the Tombs. The pecking order and battle lines are drawn: the blacks and the (few) whites don’t trust each other; the Puerto Ricans have no great love for whitey but may be dependable in conflicts with the blacks. Mostly, the inmates keep to themselves and only fuck with anyone stupid enough to fuck with them first.
Into this strange microcosm comes Clark Davis (Bruce Davison), a profoundly whitebread wimp arrested for child molestation. His very existence is an affront and a source of contempt for the other prisoners. Only a “Rican” named Juan (Jose Perez) is willing to listen to Clark and try to make some sense of him. The performers (some are ex-cons) are generally effective, and Davison is intense and extraordinarily brave in the kind of role most actors would run screaming from.Great score by Curtis Mayfield, who appears here along with Freddie Fender. Benjamin Bratt starred in the biopic 'Piñero,' about the playwright/screenwriter.