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.
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