Admittedly I've never been a great admirer of actor/director Robert Redford, but I do adore raw & gritty prison movies, especially from the 70s-80s period, and I was also blown away by the fabulous supportive cast! With names like Yaphet Koto, David Keith, M. Emmet Walsh, Everett McGill, Joe Spinell and even a still unknown Morgan Freeman in the line-up, this became an absolute must-see for me. Redford stars as the titular Brubaker, the newly appointed manager of a large prison farm in Southern Arkansas and initially posing as a randomly nameless inmate in order to observe how the institution is currently being run and how the prisoners are treated. With his little act, Brubaker exposes far more than he bargained for, as the supposedly exemplary and most beneficiary prison facility of the United States is really a hellhole full of corruption, greed, physical abuse and slavery. The regular prisoners live in miserable conditions and are submitted to hard labor on the farm fields, while the privileged "trustees" and even the local community entrepreneurs benefit tremendously from the farm's crops and harvests. Brubaker puts his career and even his healthy at risk to alter the situation, but can the deep roots of typical human greed and political corruption be dug out by one man?
I must confess it took me a while before I properly understood the hierarchy and organigram-structure of this prison farm! Apart from the manager and one buyer, there aren't any wardens or other staff members in this penitentiary. The "trustees" serve as wardens and fieldwork supervisors, but they are also convicted criminals and thus prisoners, only apparently, they have better and more influential friends. The trustees walk in and out of the prison gates, and basically can make their escape quite easily, but obviously they don't because their lives inside is much more luxurious and privileged. Neighboring businessmen also access the prison farm like it's a petting zoo, coming to ask the trustees for additional manpower or beneficial deals. The story is truly compelling and (I think) contemporary relevant, but unfortunately also monotonous. In the end, you are watching a 130 minutes movie in which every possible type of evil simply gets attributed to human greed and selfishness. If you compare "Brubaker" with prison epics like "Shawshank Redemption", "Beyond the Walls", Cell 211", "Shutter Island" or "Nightmare in Badham County", it comes out rather pale, but it's nonetheless a recommendable film with terrific acting and marvelous settings.