Sat on the shelf gathering dust since its UK debut at the 2001 London Film Festival, Steve Buscemi's directorial follow-up to the wonderful "Trees Lounge" is a prison movie with a difference.
Based on the hardboiled novel by Edward Bunker - a real life villain turned writer/actor who Buscemi met shooting "Reservoir Dogs" - it stars Edward Furlong as fresh-faced dope dealer Ron, who's banged up for a ten year stretch in a ferocious state penitentiary.
With his youthful good looks, Ron's destined to become somebody's punk. But he's saved from this fate by old-hand Earl (Willem Dafoe), who takes the new kid under his wing.
Attracted to Ron's keen intelligence and wide-eyed innocence, Earl's desire for a platonic relationship means the youngster might just be able to do his time without getting his cherry popped.
Masterfully handled by Buscemi, who prepared by directing an episode of gritty US TV prison drama Oz, "Animal Factory" is a brave successor to the indie charm of "Trees Lounge".
Like Bunker's gripping novel, the film rests on the suspenseful question of whether or not Ron's friendship with Earl is destined to remain platonic, or if the older con (who quite openly tells his young charge he thinks he's attractive) will turn on him.
It's a startlingly original device for a prison movie, and Buscemi's decision not to shrink from dealing with the sexual undercurrents of these caged men's relationships is what makes this worthwhile.
There's little else in "Animal Factory" that's quite so original, but to label it second-hand is unfair, given how many other movies have plundered Bunker's novel for their depictions of life behind bars.
A solid, understated, powerful work: worth doing time for.