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Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

HBO presents
First Time Felon (1998)

Prisoner: "Did you see one of our soldiers over there?
Greg Yance: Yup.
Prisoner: Is he still alive?
Greg Yance: If you wanna call it that."

- Greg Yance (Omar Epps) and Prisoner (Charles S. Dutton)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: September 07, 2001

Stars: Omar Epps, Delroy Lindo
Other Stars: Rachel Ticotin, Justin Pierce, Treach, William Forsythe
Director: Charles S. Dutton

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for moments of drug use, violence, and language
Run Time: 01h:45m:39s
Release Date: July 10, 2001
UPC: 026359146527
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-B-B- C-

DVD Review

Several years ago there was a documentary that took real life juvenile offenders and gave them a glimpse into the prison system as real life convicts told the horrors of their incarceration. The film, titled Scared Straight, has often been heralded as a must watch for troubled teens as a way to get their lives into focus and get back on the right track. In many ways director Charles S. Dutton's First Time Felon treads similar ground. The picture, originally produced for HBO, is a unflinching look at the new Army style bootcamp that has become a solution for overcrowded prisons.

Greg Yance spends his days on Chicago's West Side dealing drugs and as a member of a gang called the Vice Lords. To Greg everything in life seems to be going well, until he is arrested for trafficking heroin. As he spends his first day in prison he sees that life behind bars isn't very different from the outside for a gang member, as his standing as a Vice Lord means little to rival gangs who would like to see him dead. Sentenced to five years without parole, Greg accepts the chance to serve a shortened sentence in a prison bootcamp. Under the supervision of a strict guard (Lindo) and an understanding Captain (Ticotin), Greg sees a second chance at life in front of him as he and other inmates help save a river town from flooding. After finding redemption in his life Greg must return to the streets that corrupted him and find a way to create a normal lifestyle.

First Time Felon could have very easily fallen victim to being too preachy for its own good. Instead director Dutton creates a bleak sobering look at inner city youths and the challenges that face those trying to shy away from gangs and drugs. The screenplay by Daniel Therriault, based on the true story of Greg Yance, is impressive in its honesty and message that even the most hardened criminal can find a better life ahead.

It is hard to find any faults in First Time Felon although several scenes do feel a bit heavy-handed. The subplot of the river town being saved from floodwaters has some less than inspired moments, particularly Greg's sadness that he couldn't save the town, that seem more the creation of Hollywood screenplays than real life events.

From a technical standpoint First Time Felon excels, the cinematography by Jeffrey Jur does a fine job in transporting the viewers from the cold grays of inner city Chicago to the brighter landscapes of the Illinois-Iowa border. And the music by Joseph Vitarelli becomes a character in the film thanks in part to a well-done finale where the films score is the only thing heard but speaks volumes in its emotions.

It has become a common occurrence that films made for HBO often exceed that acting caliber of many theatrical releases, and First Time Felon is no exception. Omar Epps does a fine job as Greg, yet I would have liked to have seen a bit more emotion in his performance. Delroy Lindo turns in another terrific performance here as the overbearing guard Calhoun; his cornering of Epps is a wonderful moment.

First Time Felon is a picture with a large message, and one that should be heard by many. Not recommended for those who can't get past the harsh language; a film every youth should see.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen image with anamorphic enhancement, First Time Felon has a nice transfer, although many flaws can be found. The harsh blues at the start and finish of First Time Felon as well as the vibrant colors at the bootcamp certainly look wonderful, yet a large amount of grain can be seen in many shots. Edge enhancement is sometimes a problem, particularly in chapter 9 where the transfer also shows several moments of shimmering. The colors look nice, yet unfortunately that is all this transfer has going for it.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English and Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: With a 2-channel Dolby Surround track, First Time Felon doesn't send you grabbing the remote for volume adjustment, yet the mix presented gets the job done for the most part. Dialogue is sometimes hard to understand at the start of the film as I had to turn the subtitles on several times, but that problem clears up later in the picture. The real star of the track is Joseph Vitarelli's wonderful score that provides the surround speakers with their only moments of activity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: An in-depth cast and crew bios section is all that is found here.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

While the picture delivers a powerful message, the DVD from HBO is a letdown. The image quality is adequate and the sound is in the same category, and the extras are non-existent. I would love to recommend First Time Felon for purchase , but the lack of quality on the disc makes this flick a rental only.


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