Midnight Express (1978)

29.

★★★

Directed by: Alan Parker
Written by: Oliver Stone, Billy Hayes (book), William Hoffer (book)
Starring: Brad Davis, Irene Miracle and Bo Hopkins

Not quite Shawshank Redemption

In October 1970, Billy Hayes (Davis) misses his flight back to the United States from Istanbul airport, and consequently spends the next few years of his life trying to cling to sanity and the bleak hope that he will one day return home alive. All because of two kilos of hash.

Midnight Express is based on the true story of a young American who pays too dearly for a crime that would have been a mere slap on the wrist in the States, compared to what he suffers under Turkish law. When the efforts of his lawyer and the American embassy are not enough to get Billy out of prison, Billy’s desperation turns to extreme and pain-staking measures that turn his story into one of survival.

The story of Billy Hayes is undeniably compelling. Trapped in the unreliable and self-defined laws of a foreign country, Davis’ convincing performance and Parker’s direction highlight the alienation and helplessness experienced by Hayes – using the violence and moral corruption of the Turkish prison to question broader ideas of justice, cultural differences and survival. But while the film’s opening and satisfyingly tense ending demonstrate Parker’s masterful direction in building suspense and grabbing the audience’s attention, this quality is unfortunately lost in the major body of the film. The slow-moving plot lacks a sense of progression in its telling of events and fails to dig more deeply into Billy’s experience. Instead, each dead end that Billy faces is abandoned or touched on too briefly, bringing on a sudden climax and a compelling, but quickly resolved conclusion.

 

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