King of Devil's Island (or Kongen av Bastøy) is a Norwegian film released in 2010. Loosely based on real events, it follows what happens at a remote juvenile correctional facility in 1915 after the arrival of a teenager called Erling (Benjamin Helstad). Erling's rebellious nature earns him the respect and friendship of fellow prisoners, namely Olav (Trond Nilssen), but clashes instantly with the leaders of the facility: cruel and abusive Housefather Braaten (Kristoffer Joner) and strict director Håkon (Stellan Skarsgård).
On the surface, King of Devil's Island might seem like your typical prison film with the typical clichés: abusive guards, cruel warden, the bonding of prisoners, the hard labor, the punishments... there's even a brief scene that, in a way, mimics the well-known "grave" scene from Cool Hand Luke. But the thing is that such "clichés" are handled in a way that they don't feel as such; they feel organic and natural to the story.
Add to that an excellent work from the cast, and a neat work from director Marius Holst, and the result is a pretty good film. Most of the cast deliver top performances. Helstad and Nilssen, both portray the rough and emotional side of both Erling and Olav respectively. Their friendship feels real and believable. Joner is solid as the cruel Braaten, and Skarsgård portrays his character with such a "greyness" that makes us feel empathy for his character as well. His Håkon is not the typical ruthless and evil warden. He's a conflicted man that wants to do what's right, but is unable to.
Overall, a fine film. It doesn't tread any new grounds, but knows how to walk a familiar path without stumbling. Grade: A-