Reviews

Midnight Express

3

Turkey still offers no delight to drug smugglers.

Young American Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is caught boarding a plane in Turkey with a substantial stash of cannabis strapped to his nervous, sweating body.

Sent to a nightmarish Turkish prison, his initial term of five years is increased on appeal (take that, pinkos!) to a life sentence, prompting him to plot an escape with his fellow Western inmates.

Well, it prompts him to go bleary eyed and batshit mental, but then to plot escape. This adaptation of Hayes’ book takes a broadly sympathetic view of a fairly cut-and-dried crime, and a positively xenophobic view of everyone Turkish (abusive prison guards, squealing inmates, anti-American prosecutors and flipflopping judges).

And, thanks to Alan Parker’s pared-down and undeniably effective style (shot, as he discusses engagingly in featurette ‘The Production’, using a single camera switching between handheld and static set-ups), it’s very easy to be carried along with it.

But should we let ourselves be? Well, probably not. For all its plus points – its uncompromising style, the open-hearted performance from Davis as Hayes, the sexy-but-tragic disco score from Giorgio Moroder – Midnight Express is a partial and problematic film.

Collected on the disc’s excellent but overlapping featurettes (three in total, with well over an hour’s worth of material) are interviews with the film’s major players – Parker, along with screenwriter Oliver Stone, producers David Puttnam and Peter Gruber, among others. The group vividly detail the history of the project, and touch on the lingering issue of the film’s perceived racism.

Stone admits taking some fictional license with his dynamic and energetic script (he also reveals he spent several days with the real Hayes before putting pen to paper), while Parker says he would probably make the film differently now.

But they both make the point that though the film aims to show an alienated American abroad, it isn’t intentionally anti-Turkish: Hayes’ ordeal is representative, they argue, of any foreign and unfriendly land.

If anything, this is more troubling – a justification rather than an apology, and one which fails to account for the complexity of international tensions both now and then (early on, the film makes passing reference to a string of Middle Eastern plane-jackings).

It doesn’t stop Midnight Express from being a successful drama, but it does give you a sense that you’re only being shown one side of a more
interesting picture.

Verdict:

The extras are good but are already on DVD; although still emotionally effective, the film has dated diplomatically.

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