Ken Tucker
March 25, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

In Against The Wall John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) tries to tell the story of the 1971 prison riot in New York’s Attica State Correctional Facility through the eyes of a real-life guard there, Michael Smith. As played by Twin Peaks‘ Kyle MacLachlan, Smith is an extraordinarily naive fellow, despite the fact that his father (Harry Dean Stanton) and uncle (Tom Bower) were both Attica guards. We see Michael during his first day of work at Attica, and he seems shocked at the brutal living conditions, homosexual intercourse, and routine racism that he encounters. Michael’s commanding officer, played by Frederick Forrest (Apocalypse Now), tells him, ”We’ve got a civil war going on in this country; this is where we , draw the line.”

Against the Wall offers Samuel L. Jackson (Jurassic Park) as Jamaal, a composite character who is supposed to represent the more righteous and level-headed of the prisoners. The script by Ron Hutchinson (The Josephine Baker Story) tries to set up an affinity between Michael and Jamaal — they respect each other’s sense of decency — and make some point about the common ground between whites and African-Americans. Frankenheimer’s movie is yet another diatribe about how the tradition of ’60s protests was the ruin of America. D

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