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USA 1978
Directed by
Alan Parker
121 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Midnight Express

A box office hit in its day and one that has entered the canon of popular culture thanks to the scene in which Billy Hayes’s girlfriend presses her breast against the glass of the visitor’s booth (memorably parodied by Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy), Midnight Express tells the fact-based story of  Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) an American tourist in Turkey who foolishly tries to smuggle two kilos of hashish out of the country and is caught, triggering a series of events which sees him with life imprisonment in a Turkish hell-hole.

Written by Oliver Stone who won an Oscar for his adaptation of Hayes’s autobiographical account of his ordeal, the film is typical of the Reagan era with its depiction of a hapless young American victimized by an oppressive foreign regime (compare 1982's Missing for example). Although Giorgio Moroder’s synthesizer score (also an Oscar winner) is over-bearing, generally speaking the film stands up as a prison drama. Parker deftly plays out the story with the experience of being in a Third World prison effectively brought home thanks to an excellent production design and some memorable characters such as the repugnant prison factotum Rifki (Paolo Bonacelli) and Hamidou (Paul Smith) the sadistic governor. Only Billy’s tirade in the courtroom when he is sentenced to life feels overly staged.

The cast are also strong although Brad Davis never managed to capitalize on the success of the film (he died from AIDS in 1991). John Hurt is effective in the kind of ratty character role which he would make a staple during his long career whilst Randy Quaid stands out as a volatile inmate.




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