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Review: Midnight Express

I've never been to prison before, and I pray to God that I never have to. If by some stroke of bad luck I do end up being thrown in the slammer one day, I hope it's a nice place with a wide range of food on the menu and a place where I get to shower by myself. I hope it's nothing like the prison depicted in Midnight Express.

Midnight Express tells the story of Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) and the time he spent locked up in a dangerous Turkish prison after getting caught trying to smuggle drugs over to the U.S. The young American if forced to deal with some tough guards and even tougher circumstances as he fights against things like violence, anger and insanity. His saving grace comes in the form of some of his loved ones who want to get him out anyway possible and a group of friends that he meets while locked away. All he can do is live day by day and hope to somehow see the outside world again.

It goes without saying that this movie is out to illustrate some of the brutal treatment that one might endure in these ruthless circumstances. The loneliness that is felt and the desperation that is experienced is shown here by the various convicts that are locked behind bars. You can say that Billy's life during this time frame in the early to mid 70's is made an example out of both in real life and on camera. Most of us will never be forced to deal with these conditions and this is an opportunity for us to witness some of this stuff, even if it's not as accurate as it could be.

When I look at the acting in Midnight Express, I'd have to say that all of it is of good quality with the exception of some of the early parts of Brad Davis' performance in the lead role. His acting is wooden at best in some of these scenes and it's hard not to notice. That's not a huge surprise when you look at the fact that this is his first major opportunity on the big stage. Over the course of the film however, he does get better and appears to be more comfortable in his role as Billy Hayes.

The other actors have more experience and performed consistently well throughout the duration of the film. In my opinion, they have a tighter grasp on the characters that they're portraying than Davis did at first. Everything is held together by these guys in the early going while he's busy getting his stuff together. He even appears in some of these scenes as somewhat of a background character as the film is showing him as a young and naive prisoner still learning the ins and outs of his new living arrangements from these more tenured cons.

Although John Hurt was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Max, the supporting actor that stood out the most to me is Randy Quaid. I'm used to seeing him in more comedic roles, but in Midnight Express, he proves that he's able to handle himself in a setting that's completely somber and dramatic. Showing this kind of versatility as an actor is imperative when you want to be viewed as someone with genuine acting ability.

Director Alan Parker and writer Oliver Stone took several liberties in telling the story of Billy Hayes and his days on lockdown Turkey. I won't mention them here, but I'll say that some of them sensationalize the film and others simply alter certain portions of what is taking place. None the less, there are some significant changes that are noticeable to anyone who knows something about the story seen in Midnight Express.

Despite some controversy, a few drastic changes to the story, man on man kissing and all of the nude shots of male backsides, there's a good movie to be seen here. Midnight Express is a film loosely based on a true story that takes a grim and vivid look at the some of the agonizing difficulties that can exist in prison life. Although it's not completely accurate and is probably considered politically incorrect these days, it's still able to get its points across in many ways. It might also make people think twice about trying to smuggle drugs out of other countries.

Score: 3.5/5

Rating: R

Director: Alan Parker

Brad Davis
Randy Quaid
John Hurt
Paul L. Smith
Irene Miracle
Paolo Bonacelli
Bo Hopkins

Film Length: 121 minutes

Release Date: October 6, 1978

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

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