Shakespeare Behind Bars - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Shakespeare Behind Bars Reviews

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April 28, 2011
This is an honestly very good documentary, and a compelling story. The filmmakers followed around a group of inmates in a Kentucky prison as they prepared for a performance of Shakespeare's The Tempest. The result is both an engrossing and compassionate look at the lives of some tough criminals (including murderers and child molesters), and a unique testament to the universality of Shakespeare.

The film was made over about a year, and so we get to see the ongoing dramas of the prisoners' lives, as well as their preparation process. Their stories are varied and interesting, and it's surprising how emotionally involved you get - everyone in the class I watched the film with really wanted to know what became of the various prisoners after the film was over. The filmmakers smartly do not foreground their own presence at all, so we feel a direct connection to the prisoners' lives.

The film does make a strong case that everybody can benefit from and somehow relate to Shakespeare. For instance, there is the story of one inmate, a black African-American male, who seemed to really find himself identifying with the role of Miranda, the dispossessed heiress of an Italian dukedom in the play. All of the actors seem to genuinely care about the play in a way you sense they may not have cared about things in their previous lives. This could have seemed manipulated and artificial, but it's an indication of the film's skill that it feels very convincing. The idea of this film may sound strange to you, but I promise, it is worth watching.
½ February 1, 2010
This is a must-see documentary which demonstrates the basic point that inmates are human beings like th rest of us...
½ August 6, 2009
Documentary about prisoners in a medium security Kentucky prison performing Shakespeare's plays. In its sixth year the men performed The Tempest. The performers are interesting as they try to use the play to reform their own lives. The play itself was chosen by the volunteer director as many of the prisoners parole was coming up and the play has a theme of redemption.
May 31, 2009
artful, inspiring but i had empathy fatigue by the end of it
½ March 4, 2009
I viewed this on Netflix Instant Watch- halfway through I jumped on Amazon and bought it.

It touches two nerves for me- the value of Shakespeare and the value of a human being. This is what art is supposed to be about- transcendence and transmutation.
½ January 9, 2009
Really powerful and effective documentary. The filmmakers wisely eschew the "Michael Moore School of Documentary Filmmaking," where the filmmaker places himself front-and-center, and instead sit back and allow these hardened-- yet strangely vulnerable-- murderers, drug dealers, and child abusers to tell their own story. Some critics have argued that the movie revels in a type of empty-headed liberalism, humanizing brutal people to the point that the audience will identify with them and feel that their incarcerations are unjust. Wrong. By showing these men, the filmmakers simply point out that these people are human beings, no matter how often we might describe their crimes as "inhuman." There are plenty of them that I hope are never released, but I can still feed sad for them, seeing what their lives have come to.
September 10, 2008
Overall, a decent documentary... just another example of the way that we learn the importance of artistic expression has no boundaries:)
August 27, 2008
A genuine glimpse into the hearts and minds of prisoners, actors, and people. As an actor it was one of the best films i've ever seen, if for no other reason than to somehow put a tangible shell on what it means to be an actor and what the drive and purpose is behind every actor or actress to ever walk the globe. What makes it fascinating is obviously the setting. One's heart breaks for these men while at the same time you're immediate reaction is to judge for yourself wether or not they deserve to be there. The film will make you re-examine those judgments which we are so quick to make of the men in these padded and cemented walls. Granted, their judgment is based upon their own actions, things which several of them can barely even speak aloud without breaking down into tears. It is not that you neccesarily question their punishment, you question your own mind as to the stereotypical cold figure you've painted in your mind for what a prisoner is and should be. These men are human, through and through, and handle tragedy, comedy and life just as anyone else would. It is a different life behind bars, but it is a life nonetheless
August 18, 2008
Terrific! This film portrays some of truest artists. The inmates live for the Shakespearean production that they put on every year. It is interesting to see how the prisoners draw upon their emotions for the characters so easily because of their troubled pasts and regrets.
½ July 22, 2008
This is a must see for anybody who has ever been involved in theater. It puts the entire experience of participating in a production in an entirely new way while also giving great insight to life inside a mid-security prison.
½ March 2, 2008
rather than being seen as criminals, these men are seen as humans aiming for redemption. many of the men were articulate and bright, and genuinely seemed regretful of their pasts.
February 22, 2008
so beautiful to see how art redeems people
February 9, 2008
A human portrayal of bad men who search for redemption in theater. The documentary does not flinch from the criminal brutality, and sometimes evil of it's subjects, but it does offer hope for both rehabilitation and the life of the arts.
½ February 7, 2008
It's interesting how the inmates are portrayed in this documentary. You don't see the men only for their crimes, but for their humanity that comes out through playing roles of Shakespeare. But then you realize once again that these are rapists, stranglers, and murderers, and you're left at an impasse. Really well done.
½ January 30, 2008
Really well put together documentary. As you watched it, you really connected to the inmates. The stories are powerful as is the impact that this Shakespeare troupe is having on the inmates of the facility.
January 27, 2008
Very very good and fascinating to use shakespear as a kind of thearapy! I loved that docomentary!!!
January 27, 2008
Awesome documentary. So interesting! I actually found myself feeling for some of the inmates involved. I thought it was very fascinating how much this program means to these men.
January 25, 2008
Dull and unengrossing
January 24, 2008
Solid doc. What's probably the creepiest part is that so many of the killers admitted that their spouses were similar to their Mothers. Does that make you a better actor?
January 21, 2008
great doc to see the continued influence and power of the Bard's work today.
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