Friday January 31, 1997
"Inside" is as impressive as it is almost too painful to watch in its depiction of the evils of apartheid carried to the extreme. Although set in that racist system's final years in South Africa, it is a timeless depiction of the horrors that can confront any individual who becomes at the total mercy of a monstrous regime. It also makes palpable the fear that can consume people in regard to those different from themselves.
Arrested for treason but without being charged, Marty Strydom (Eric Stoltz) is thrown into a prison run by a Col. Kruger (Nigel Hawthorne). Initially proud and defiant, Marty is systematically beaten so badly that--and given the prominence of his family in South Africa--Kruger determines to drive him to suicide by whatever means at his disposal. A trial for Strydom would only bring further international protests of the South African government and exposure of the hideous treatment accorded its political prisoners.
Just at the point--about half an hour into the picture--when Kruger and his guards' treatment of Strydom is becoming truly unbearable, "Inside" switches to the present, with a black official, known only as the Questioner (Louis Gossett Jr.), interrogating Kruger in regard to Strydom.
As a chamber drama, "Inside" could scarcely have been more adroitly filmed than by director Arthur Penn, working with cinematographer Jan Weincke and production designer David Barkham, resourceful craftsman both. The prison cell door's large peephole becomes the film's dominant, oddly obscene image, through which Marty can communicate with other prisoners--but also receives blasts of a Mace-like spray. Scenes inside cells and Kruger's office are punctuated with shots of the long prison corridors, their darkness pierced by pools of light from occasional ceiling fixtures. Similarly, Penn uses sound to vary and heighten Strydom's terrible predicament. "Inside's" terse 94 minutes is expertly paced.
The director of "Bonnie and Clyde," "The Miracle Worker," "Mickey One," "Little Big Man" and "Night Moves," plus a raft of Broadway successes, Penn has now added another important picture to this list. In doing so, he has inspired in his cast electrifying portrayals. Gossett gives us a man of controlled rage while Stoltz sustains a thoroughly harrowing portrait of a man facing as best he can the most horrible of fates.
Yet it is, not surprisingly, Hawthorne's Kruger who haunts you. It's not too much to say that Kruger is among the most loathsome, despicable men ever depicted in the movies, the very epitome of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Kruger is also the very embodiment of Hannah Arendt's famous "banality of evil"--a man possessed of a small, closed mind but an infinite capacity for cunning. His hatred of blacks is fueled by a limitless paranoid fear that, once in power, they will surely treat the white man the way the white man has treated them.
("Inside" originally aired on Showtime.)
Inside, 1997. R, for political violence and torture, language and a brief sex scene. A Strand Releasing and Showtime presentation in association with Hallmark Entertainment/Elkins Entertainment and Logo Entertainment. Director Arthur Penn. Producer Hillard Elkins. Executive producer Louis Gossett Jr. Screenplay by Bima Stagg. Cinematographer Jan Weincke. Editor Suzanne Pillsbury. Costumes Leigh Bishop. Music Robert Levin. Production designer David Barkham. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Nigel Hawthorne as Col. Kruger. Eric Stoltz as Marty. Louis Gossett Jr. as Questioner.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times