Should incarcerated men be allowed to play football? This is the first question filmmaker Simeon Soffer asks in his entertaining and thoughtful documentary about the championship football game between two of the largest and most dangerous penitentiaries in the South. In covering the game, Soffer provides an honest view of the U.S. prison system.
4TH AND LIFE has a clever style and dark humor that co-opts Monday Night Football to give us all the hooks. Prisoners are commentators. Players are introduced by name, nickname, crime and punishment. Instant replay has a gun’s crosshairs over it. And most ingenious are bizarre yet real “commercials” for local lawyers, prison pen pals and bail bondsmen.
But Soffer makes 4TH more substance than exploitation. Prison facts and figures are given through pop quizzes. Inmates are allowed to speak for themselves--and the tough issues surrounding their reasons for incarceration as well as their lives behind bars are never sidestepped. The laugh-out-loud fun is balanced by the compassion Soffer affords his subjects, making 4TH AND LIFE smart and satisfying.