Rock and a Hard Place is not what you would expect. Upon first glance, it might seem like a documentary in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes young men who might otherwise go to prison and puts them through a grueling four-month program of exercise and discipline. This would make the documentary’s title the best in the history of cinema. These young men would be caught between a hard place (lengthy prison sentences) and The Rock, a pseudo-deity who is more muscle than man.
This is not the case. Instead, Rock and a Hard Place is about the Miami-Dade County Corrections & Rehabilitation Boot Camp Program, a 16-week camp in which actual drill instructors, who are unfortunately not The Rock, push the inmates to their limit, breaking them down mentally and physically in order to build them up again as regular citizens. The Rock appears only at the very beginning and end of the documentary. He welcomes the 38 inmates into the program on the day they arrive.
“You don’t feel like it right now, but you’re lucky,” he says. “You’re lucky you got another shot. Don’t f—k this thing up.”
Rock and a Hard Place focuses on one of the many groups that have been put through this program. The 38 individuals arrive onsite and are immediately subjected to psychological pressure by the drill instructors. Their heads are shaved, they receive uniforms, and, most importantly, they are screamed at by the instructors to get them to fall in line. The inmates do thousands of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and laps around the facility. They wake up before the crack of dawn to begin this intense physical training, and by the start of the second day, you can notice the changes in these young men.
The young men are often shown crying as they must adjust to the strict discipline of the program. One inmate continually refuses to act according to instruction, snorting derisively at the drill instructors’ attempts to correct them all. He is placed in lockup time and time again. The drill instructors speak to the camera, outlining how they have the option to kick inmates out of the program if they aren’t receptive to the training. This is not something they enjoy doing, as they know that the boot camp really works. The national rate of prison recidivism is 70 percent, while the boot camp program’s recidivism rate is only 15 percent. They want to see these young men succeed, but if there are inmates who refuse to cooperate, they cannot risk the potential dissension in the ranks. The inmate who was placed in lockup multiple times was eventually removed from the program and faced his original sentence of 15 years in prison.
In spite of the gaping lack of The Rock, a god amongst men, Rock and a Hard Place really is quite meaningful. Johnson is an executive producer of the documentary, calling it his passion project, as well as one of the most important films he has been a part of. The Rock ran into trouble with the law as a young man, citing that the discipline he found in sports as the only reason he didn’t wind up in prison.
These young men are being given a real second chance at life. They can avoid spending decades of their life sitting in a cell if they can find the strength within themselves to make it to the end of the program. The boot camp is not just about the physical training, however. Every day, the inmates attend anger management classes, as well as vocational training and work duty.
Over the course of the documentary, the viewer watches as the inmates are changed from the inside out. There are moments of genuine heart, as one inmate calls his family and afterwards, breaks down in tears when he realizes what he has been putting them through. At graduation, four months in real time and only 80 minutes later, the remaining 33 members of boot camp look like new people. They walk in formation, standing up straight and in line. But even outside of the physical aspect, their entire demeanor has changed. They are polite, happy, and excited. They have made a vow to themselves to use their second chance at life wisely. Tough love and instruction by all of the members of the Miami-Dade County facility have transformed them. While there isn’t as much of The Rock as one might initially hope for, Rock and a Hard Place shows a happier outcome for troubled youth. It isn’t a prison documentary, it’s a story of redemption.
Featured Image By HBO