Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Prison Break is a great drama that has re-energized the prison drama.
We begin in a bank, where a man (who we later discover is named Michael Scofield, played by Wentworth Miller) is robbing it. The police come, he drops his guns, and is arrested. Despite a sterling record on the outside (he's well-educated and has a job as a structural engineer), he pleads no contest and is sentenced to five years in Fox River pentitentiary.
Which, as it turns out, is just what he wanted.
Scofield is a highly intelligent, gifted man. He has the knowledge and the skills to break out of prison once he's in. He also has the motivation: his brother is also at Fox River, waiting to be executed for killing the President's brother. As the series goes on, we see that Michael Scofield's brother Lincoln is not like him. He's a low-life petty criminal. But he's also innocent, and he took care of Michael in their youth when no one else did. So, Michael has spent several month developing a plan to get himself sent to Fox River where he could break him and his brother out.
Obviously the blueprints would help, and just as obviously the prison guards aren't going to let Scofield bring in a roll of blueprints and other notes along with him. Michael found a novel way around this: he's had his entire upper body tattooed with the blueprints and other things he will need in order to escape.
But Michael hasn't thought of everything. He's seriously misjudged the human element. And the human element is exactly what makes Season 1 of Prison Break as good as it is.
For example, mob boss John Abruzzi (Peter Stormare) figures heavily into Michael's plan. Abruzzi has the connections on the outside and the mojo inside to make Michael's plan come to life. To attract his interest, Michael has uncovered the name of an informant who will be testifying against Abruzzi in an upcoming trial. Well and good. Except for the fact that Abruzzi is a man who has no ethical qualms against violence to get what he wants, and he's perfectly willing to target Michael in order to get it.
In the beginning of the series, Michael first needs a bolt from the bleachers. This bolt can be filed down into a makeshift Allen wrench which Michael intends to use to unbolt the toilet of his cell, giving him access to the maintenance areas of the prison. The blueprints for the bleachers told him that. They did not add that the bleachers are the turf of the white racist gang in the prison, the Alliance for Purity, led by the despicable but intelligent Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell (Robert Knepper). T-Bag would like to have Michael as a playmate. The bolt proves to be a lot more elusive than Michael thinks, with T-Bag providing most of the elusiveness.
Warden Pope (Stacy Keach) is the decent man running the prison; Captain Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) provides the muscle behind the decency, making it clear he runs his end of things his way: violently.
Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) is Michael's cellmate; a decent soul who is in love with a woman on the outside. At first he wants no part of Michael's plan to escape; later he joins it.
Other characters, like the mentally ill Haywire (Silas Weir Mitchell) ), the con-wise but likable C-Note (Rockmund Dunbar), and the token love interest Dr. Sarah Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies) have different roles to play.
Things continue outside the prison. Lincoln's son LJ (Marshall Allman), his lawyer Veronica Donovan(Robin Tunney), and public defender Nick Savrinn (Frank Grillo) are doing what they can to spring Lincoln legally, but there isn't much they can do. The conspiracy that has framed Lincoln goes very high indeed, and Agent Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein) is its enforcer. A few other shadowy figures come in and out of the series. (In Season 2, a lot of this becomes a lot clearer.)
But Season 1 focuses where it should: inside the prison walls. Michael's journey to freedom takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns, and the prisoners don't seem terribly interested in his plan, unless it profits them. Bellick, Abruzzi, and T-Bag are some of the best characters -- even though, paradoxically, they're the most dislikeable. These actors portray complex characters well: even as much as we may hate them, they show unexpected signs of humanity just when we least expect it.
Cliffhangers about in the first season of Prison Break, often several in an episode. This just isn't anything like what Michael planned. Although Michael is well able to solve physical problems (knocking down walls, getting into rooms that are locked), his struggles with the other prisoners really make the series. And quite a ride it is.
Prison Break isn't perfect. Like Michael, it's extremely naive in some ways about the legal system and prison. (Having been sentenced to death, for example, Lincoln would not be allowed to mix with general population prisoners, for example. Yet he not only does, he's allowed to have a job on the elite Prison Industries team.
For another, Michael constructs a cell phone out of soap. Sucre tells him that's an automatic two years added to his sentence if he's caught with it. For one thing, the prison can take away good time, or otherwise punish Michael for it. They cannot, however unilaterally add to his sentence -- only a court can do that. For another, cell phones are common contraband items in prison -- illegal yes, but Michael could have obtained one for about $500 with relatively little risk. (Yes, I'm enough of a geek that I googled it.)
But these are minor peccadilloes. The commentary on the DVD is interesting, but the episodes themselves are the best part. Prison Break has its eye on one thing -- the eventual escape -- but getting there is a gripping, gritty ride.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older