If you've seen the HBO series Oz, then two men falling in love and even having sex with each other while both are in prison will hardly be shocking. If you haven't seen that HBO series, then be prepared to be shocked by this film's opening scene.
What writers and directors, Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin, do in this movie, however, that the makers of Oz never dared is actually depict the two men having sex in a way that makes it seem romantic and beautiful. Daniel Brocklebank plays Jack Gillie, a prisoner, and, Garry Summers plays Martin Crane, a prison guard, and it's almost immediate that their two naked bodies are embraced in a scene illuminated by blue moonlight and sprinkled not with the twinkle of stars but the orange glow of candles.
Jack and Martin obviously have to meet in secret. An unused prison cell becomes a sexual oasis for them. Make no mistake, this movie isn't just about sex. It's in the end a love story. While the love story in Oz between Lee Tergesen and Christopher Meloni's characters was done more to explore the show's theme of redemption, the love story in Release is done more to explore the idea of faith.
After all, the character of Jack Gillie is a young priest. Now, if you think you've seen conflict, try being a priest who's gay who's in jail and who's also in love with one of the prison officers. Yes, the filmmakers have created a very interesting character who has quite a bit of conflict, and Brocklebank carries it well, but even with all that conflict, I dare say that Brocklebank had the least difficult part.
Wayne Virgo co-stars as Rook, Jack's young cell mate who seemingly lives in constant fear. He has perpetual nightmares. Virgo really only has two scenes to establish this character, which he handles sweetly. All the other scenes are that of Rook suffering horrible beatings, and I know that it's all choreographed with fake blood, but, as you watch, it feels so brutally and violently real.
Virgo's screams of pain certainly help. The filmmakers made a movie with Virgo a year or so ago called Shank (2009). In that one, Virgo also screams out of simulated pain. In both movies, Virgo's screams are so visceral that the audience can't help but be uncomfortable.
That discomfort is powerful in Shank, but it's not so or as effective in Release. When Rook is attacked in this movie, there's no explanation or reason. It seems done purely for sadism's sake. At least in the previous movie, a reason is given, that of homophobia. The only nonsensical reason here is that Rook is beaten merely because he's young and vulnerable. There may have been some drug aspect, but that wasn't made clear to me.
The writers and directors rightly focus instead on the reason for Jack's pain. His incarceration is the result of his pain as well as his empathy for someone else's pain. Through a series of flashbacks and dream-like sequences, the filmmakers delve into that pain. It all builds to a confrontation between Jack and another older priest debating about religious intolerance.
That debate I think is probably one of the best debates I've ever seen or heard on the subject. It makes up for a very predictable ending. Yet, the movie lacks in the love story. While there is a sex scene between the two leads, we're not privy to what led to that moment. How did they hook up? Who made the first move? How did they know that the other was gay? The two actors do a good job with what little they had, but the filmmakers could have added more between them.