Made for TV movie broadcast in 1994 on TNT. Directed by John Frankenheimer this film was made to unusually good standards for a television film. The plot is based on the true story of the Attica Prison Riot and this version of the tale closely follows the story of a rookie prison guard, Michael Smith (Kyle MacLachlan) and the relationships he forges with both his colleagues and the inmates during a prison riot fueled by brutal living conditions, racist guards and an uncaring administration.
Samuel Jackson portrays Jamaal X. an inmate religious leader who manages to gain some control of the inmates during the negotiations and forms an uneasy but respectful friendship with the young and idealistic guard, Smith.
This films version of the riot places much of the blame for the tragic end of the siege on an uncaring and never seen Governor Rockefeller and portrays Commissioner Oswald as a man doing his best to put a peaceful end to the siege and recover the hostages while preventing Warden Mancusi from rushing in with armed guards. Ironically, this was the ultimate end to the riot, when after two days of negotiations the Governor refused to meet the prisoners demands for amnesty and ordered troops to storm the yard.
While the names of important officials and public figures were used as character names in the film, many of the other characters are pseudo names. It is unclear whether the character of Michael Smith is fictionalized, although the history cap at the end suggests that he was real. The character of Jamaal X. is clearly modeled after inmate Herbert X. Blyden, a religious leader among inmates, and an ardent political activist for prisoner rights. He disliked the film complaining that, "They went to all that trouble and spent all that money, why couldn't they try and get it right? It's not that much harder to get it right."
Despite Blyden's objections I enjoyed this movie and would recommend it to anyone who claims that prisoners deserve whatever treatment they receive. Punches were not pulled in the portrayal of the guards behavior and after the credits rolled I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Much like Once Were Warriors, this was a good movie about very bad things.
Thanks to IMDB.com for cast list