Midnight Express

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker

REVIEWED: 02-15-99

Twenty years ago the plot line was simple enough: William Hayes (Davis), a naive young American vacationing with his girlfriend (Miracle) in Istanbul, Turkey, tries to smuggle a couple of kilos of hash out of the country and back to the States. He is caught and thrown into a Turkish prison to serve his sentence of four years on the charge of possession. There, he is tortured, raped and forced into the brutal state of survival one must attain while doing time in any prison, much less a Turkish one. He buddies up with other Americans and foreigners who have been imprisoned, most of them caught for smuggling hash, and soon discovers the only way out of the jail is through death or by "the midnight express" (a prison term for escape). That train, says Hayes' friend and fellow prison mate Max (John Hurt in a standout performance), doesn't run around here. But ultimately Hayes does escape, makes it over the Turkish border into Greece and arrives back in America, almost six years after his original incarceration. Although this may sound like a Hollywood plot line, the story is entirely true. A talented new writer named Oliver Stone revealed Hayes' attitude as another ignorant American, thinking he is above the law because of his nationality and difference in culture. The national hate for foreigners, especially Americans, is also well-diagrammed throughout the film; the Turkish call them "ayip," which means sinful, evil. Brad Davis (Chariots of Fire, Sybil) gives a career-best performance and Randy Quaid is superb, one of the few roles where he draws our attention with his acting ability rather than being plain obnoxious. Director Alan Parker, better known for other powerful films like Mississippi Burning and Pink Floyd: The Wall, milks naturalistic performances out of his small cast and creates a brutal intensity rarely matched in cinema today. Michael Serensin's cinematography is oddly sedating yet intense, giving the prison and the whole country of Turkey a frightful, alien sort of feel. This digitally re-mastered 20th anniversary edition gives a clearer look at a classic film about the clash between American pomposity and violent government corruption.

--Eli Kooris

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