Punishment Park (1971)

punishment park 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grueling race in desert.

Political radicals from the Vietnam era are arrested and then giving a choice between either spending time in federal prison or participating in a grueling race in the desert known as ‘Punishment Park’. A news crew comes along to cover the events, but finds that the soldiers hired to monitor the race use increasingly brutal treatments on the participants and the violence and elements soon get out-of-hand. Tempers and emotions run high and ugly, angry confrontations abound.

This film really packs a punch. It has a lot of raw emotion that seems missing in so many other films. Director Peter Watkins allowed the cast to ad-lib and his loose style helps create a vivid and unpredictable atmosphere. The ongoing arguments between the prisoners and those hired to judge and interrogate them is very entertaining and the highlight of the whole film. The editing between the interrogations and the race is sharp and intense.  The violence and most especially the ending is brutal and disturbing. Despite this being a pseudo-documentary it is so skillfully done that it seems very much like the real thing.

The only flaw with the film is the fact that no policemen would allow the film crew to go free, or at least not destroy their footage after capturing their brutal and unlawful methods. Most likely the crew would have ended up receiving the same ugly fate as the other victims.

This is a very emotionally charged film that should get a strong reaction from anyone who sees it. This is also a great chance to see independent filmmaking before it was trendy and working completely outside of the mainstream.

punishment park 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Watkins

Studio: Sherpix

Available: DVD (Region 1 and 2), Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

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