Putting the funny on hold, comedian D.L. Hughley stars as Ben Cross, a high school teacher whose mysterious past results in his demotion to an instructor of teen convicts at Shackles, short for Shackleton Academy Prison. Director Charles Winkler gives the adult-must-win-over-teens plotline a visually arresting twist through his use of stylized slow motion, split screen, and sometimes triple screen narratives, all of which lend an energetic rhythm to the storytelling. Shackles is like Oz meets Coach Carter (albeit without the basketball, though, like the HBO series, it even boasts its own poet/griot to help narrate the story). Here the galvanizing tool of choice is poetry. When Ben gets the students to open up about their innermost feelings, it temporarily reinvents the education system at the youth penitentiary. The convicts take part in a jailhouse poetry slam, with the best poet invited to compete in a neighborhood slam on the outside. But on the night of the big event, the long-awaited competition takes a back seat to a highly charged plot twist, as the academy itself comes under mortal threat. With the media, the prisoners, guards, and teachers in attendance, this hotbed of tension can only lead to the most explosive of conclusions.
Charles Winkler is the son of producer/director Irwin Winkler. After completing a series of shorts and mini-documentaries in his early twenties, he wrote and directed his first feature film You Talkin' to Me? for United Artists in 1987. Since then, Winkler has alternated writing and directing features and movies-of-the-week with episodic television directing assignments, including work on such shows as Beggars and Choosers, Baywatch, The Chris Isaak Show, and Dead at 21. Working with producer Rob Cowan, Winkler co-wrote and directed the award-winning television docudrama Rocky Marciano starring Jon Favreau, Penelope Ann Miller, and George C. Scott. He and Cowan are in production on The Net 2.0, shooting in Istanbul, Turkey. Winkler lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sandra Nelson, and their two children.