Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Midnight Express" (1978) - Movie Review

In the booklet came along with the DVD is the detailed jotting down of information of how “Midnight Express” came into the hands of Oliver Stone’s spectacular screenplay by director Alan Parker. It gives details of great honesty on the journey towards the completion of this film. In that Parker talks about the truthfulness of the real events to the film and that should be the disclaimer message for the films made out from the actual events. Truth as it stands has drifted so far away and the remaining piece of the ordeal are the emotions, the desperation and the smell of freedom. That cannot be drifted and that has no nationality.

In the light of that information, I treated the film as a work of fiction shaping a character who may or may not be the real Billy Hayes and the ambience may or may not be the country of any origin which in this case happens to be Turkey. Right from the opening scene when Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) packs his body with bars of Hashish and the inevitable capture in the airport, Parker holds us on our nerves. The feeling returns back at the end to not believe in this possibility. Every where we know the conclusion but doubt whether we are right and it aggravates the tension in monumental amounts.

Hayes eventually getting caught receives three and half years prison time in the worst possible conditions of a prison. Prisons need not be shown any more cruel than it already is. It is not a fact oblivious for any one that it robs the most basic thing we walk freely upon, the freedom. Hayes pays for his stupidity and there is a moving scene with his father (Mike Kellins) on his departure leaving his dear son to the hell hole. Hayes makes friends and may be a little more than friends. In prison to simulate the proximity of being held on and to not lose the sense of touch, sexual orientation little does matter when it is needed. Here he is tempted to the invitations of his jail mate Erich (Norbert Weisser).

Parker in 1978 denies the audience the rights of understanding the Turkish guards and prisoners conversing as Hayes would have went through. Hence we mimic his capability to make head and tail of the language with nothing positive other than to know the level of extremity the despair and pain is going to be. The jail warden (Paul Smith) provide the muscle torture with no mercy while the creepy diabolical smile of Rifki (Pauolo Bonacelli) the rat of the prison supply the terror factors for Hayes. Hayes forms friend ship with two characters at the brink of insanity in their degree of physicality. They is an Englishman Max (John Hurt) deep into the drug effects of codine for his gastro problems and Jimmy (Randy Quaid) a rage monger having had enough of this prison.

Hayes counts his days of punishment for three and half years only to be denied before 53 days of his supposed release by the high court to convert his possession into smuggling resulting in a life sentence. The enrage at his sentencing is one of many scenes Brad Davis stuns with his acting. His physical and mental pain in making the film seem to be equivalent of the ordeal Hayes went through in real life. He is half naked to full naked most of the times and humiliation becomes a irremovable cloth. He has given up on anything and when he meets his girl friend Susan (Irene Miracle) on the other side of the glass, it is unbearable to watch him. The visceral nature of that in those times would have been deeply haunting and disturbing for the audience.

The cinematography of Michael Seresin merges in the shadows of the dirty walls and immerses in the tunnels of doom. It captures the reeking environment of these prisoners and adds a shine to a scene. It is classy in the shambles of this chilling place. The music of Giorgio Moroder fiddles the cinematography and the actors on the screen. It is neither enthralling nor secretively meshed. It carries the complex emotion of happiness and the failure of this man living in a situation of hopelessness.

Alan Parker’s “Midnight Express” is a carefully constructed epic scripted by Oliver Stone. It does not have any message nor a stand on the justice. It does not state a country’s corrupt system. The mess Hayes got himself into could have been in any country with an inhabitable state of affair in a prison located any region. While it is sad that Istanbul got a bad reputation, it does not intend that way. The film does not even try to take sides with Hayes. It follows him and never gives hope at any instance. We in the dismal shows of various attempts of Hayes and his crew going in air of debacle threatens to hope good as it would be broken badly. It in the work of fiction has become the test of human endurance and the morphing of the saneness in a locality completely detached of humanity. It is a clinical study of a person pushed on to his extremes by one stupid mistake.

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