Reviewed byJake McGeeVote: 8/10/10
CIVIL BRAND is a story which tells of a women's prison in which theinmatesare forced to work as slaves, and are exploited as little more thananimals.True, we've all seen this in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, where convicts are puttophysical labor, but it's always been presented as an acceptablesituation. Aman robs a store and kills the clerk, so why not have him pound outlicenseplates and working on road construction crews?
CIVIL BRAND offers a fresh look at the Prison-Industrial Complex,attackingthe issue from several different angles. For one thing, the inmatesaren'tworking on roads or some kind of community service- they're makingclothesfor department stores. A more provocative approach, though, is the factthatthese slaves are female, a scenario that folks are not used toconsidering.Outstanding performances by LisaRaye, Mos Def, Clifton Powell, MC Lyte,Monica Calhoun, Lark Voorhies, and the sensational N'Bushe Wright (theladyPanther from DEAD PRESIDENTS who is one of the most talented peopleactingin Cinema today, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous), powerfulcinematography, and brutal honesty come together to make CIVIL BRAND notjust a great movie, but an extremely important one.
(c) Jake McGee - Get Underground
Reviewed byArtemis-9Vote: 7/10/10
Women In Prison films are standard fare for the entertainment of mainlyboozed up, lurid male audiences, featuring (1) cat-fight; (2) almostnude gals in isolation; (3) sexual harassment of inmates; (4) brutalguards; (5) rape; (6) riot; (7) revenge on the (8) corrupt warden andsuperior officers. WIP are usually low budgeted, filmed with poorlypaid crew and very small cast.
Guess what? You've all the required items, the film was made on astringy budget and a dozen actors, one of them doubling as stuntchoreographer, who 'gets shot' without putting up a fight! So why isall the uproar? Plenty of (lurid?) viewers complaining that it's a BADBAD FILM, and plenty of established critics complaining that it's a BADBAD FILM...
Because this film was made (as the director explains in detail in thevoice on commentary in the DVD version) from a critical, very politicalview point, exposing as well as it can the link between Politics,Economics, and Prisons. Even without being corrupt, a prison's systemexploited like a private business - as it is perfectly legal in somecountries, like the U.S. of A. - may, and eventually does, as historiccases prove, end up in being a monstrous creation.
That the director was naif, and tried to put to many ideas andcharacters in at the same time, ending with a couple of loose ends,it's a pity. DaBrat is not the best narrator to keep an audienceinterested, in a film with not much screen action; Tichina Arnoldshould be meaner as Aisha the bad girl, yet she provokes a good fighton the gravel yard of this urban prison; woman sarge Cervantes lookssexy enough to liven things up - but her character is underdeveloped inthe (cut to 91m though R rated) DVD version; LisaRaye is OK as thetaller new girl, but lacks experience, and it shows, in several crucialmoments.
The music is new, and at times inspired, by Mandrill. The exposé ofestablished facts will be valuable for audiences who wish to get alarger view than the telly gives them. Supporting cast has goodperformances by Clifton Powell (justly awarded), Reed McCants, and bestfor last, the beautiful and definitely the best actress of the pen,N'Bushe Wright. (I'm closing this comment and go searching for otherfilms with her.)
Reviewed byDarylKMiddlebrookVote: 7/10/10
Caught the beginning of this film on cable, found it interestingenough, that I purchased the film on Amazon. Honestly, I didn't expectmuch, women's prison films are notoriously bad or depressingly sad;however, I have to say that I was surprisingly pleased with CivilBrand. While the story initially seems to revolve around FrancesShepherd (lovely LisaRaye)) a women convicted to life for killing herabusive husband, the film quickly transforms into an ensemble event,with an interesting, and for a women's prison film, very attractivecast. First we're introduced to Sabrina (rapper Da Brat) who narratesus through this tale. Once inside we meet Lil' Momma (gorgeous LarkVoorhies) the religious teen doing time for killing her rapiststep-father; militant Wet (always impressive Monica Calhoun), prisonsnitch Aisha (the underrated Tichina Arnold) and finally gangster girlNikki (the delectable N'Bushe Wright). Instead of focusing, as mostprison films do, on infighting between the inmates, the filmsuccessfully sheds light on the abuse women prisoners often encounterwhile locked up. In Civil Brand, that abuse is orchestrated by thenotorious Captain Deese (the always worthy Clifton Powell). From slavelabor to rape, Deese is the perfect despicable villain needed for sucha movie. While the performances range from watchable to very good, nonestand out more than that of N'Bushe Wright. Not since Pam Grier have Iseen an actress pull off the role of a tough-as-nails bad girl, andlook so hot doing it. Those that don't know her by name, may rememberher in similar roles in the films Blade and Dead Presidents. This womanshould be an A-List actress, why that hasn't happened is a mystery tome. Anyway, I digress, Civil Brand is worthy of 91 minutes (the actualrunning time) of your day. If you like action films, if you like actionfilms with great looking actresses, this is the film for you.
Women prisoners strike up a friendship with a young law student who works as a part-time prison guard. Together they discover that a corporation funds and is profitting from the plantation-like work environment they are forced to work under. In a botched attempt to organize a protest against their "slave labor", the women take over the prison - A rare glimpse of the effects of the prison industrial complex on female inmates.