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Midnight Express

Midnight Express
The recent passing of director Alan Parker motivated my long overdue first re-watch of the movie that cemented his position as one of Hollywood's most gifted and underrated directors. 1978's Midnight Express is a chilling and emotionally charged look at how a couple of stupid choices completely destroyed the life of a young college student. Those who have issues with the American justice system will definitely be quieted by this often unbelievable story.

On October 6, 1970 a young man named Billy Hayes attempted to smuggle two kilos of hashish out of Istanbul. but is caught just before he boards the plane for the states with his girlfriend. Billy is actually offered freedom by Turkish authorities if he agrees to lead them to the people who sold him the drugs. Billy agrees to do so, but during the sting, he attempts to escape and ends up being recaptured, which leads to him being sentenced to four and a half years behind Turkish bars, a consistent nightmare of beatings, torture, isolation, and loneliness.

Oliver Stone won an Oscar for his screenplay, adapted from Hayes book, which actually condenses a lot of what happened to Hayes, but still gets the point across...that point being that an American convicted of a crime outside of the United States, Turkey in particular, has absolutely no recourse but to serve his time. Apparently, the US State Department attempted to have Billy's sentencing transferred to the US but to no avail. After serving two years of his sentence, the real Billy Hayes was transferred to a psychiatric hospital to see if he could get released on humanitarian grounds, but that wasn't happening. And as his sentence rolls down to 53 days, Billy is thrown the ultimate curve ball and knows that escape is his only option.

Parker's atmospheric direction is the real star here...beautifully creating the isolation and futility of Billy's situation. In reviews of other films, I've complained about scenes where characters don't speak English and no subtitles are provided, but it really works to this film's advantage....there are several moments where Billy is thrown in front of a bunch of people deciding his fate and he has no idea what they're saying...from the initial strip search at the airport to his first meeting with the judge to his final sentencing. It's heartbreaking watching Billy's fate being determined before his eyes but without his comprehension of what's going on. There are even a couple of squirm worthy moments where officials are actually laughing. There's also one corrections officer at the prison who, at moments, seems to comprehend English, but never speaks it, but we're never really sure.

The scenes between Billy and his father were among the strongest scenes in the drama. Loved the beginning of that scene where Billy's dad has his head on the desk waiting for Billy to be brought in and when he hears the gates open and his head pops up, it's so clear that this man has been through hell, spending the last couple of weeks crying and not sleeping and terrified about his son's fates.

After a few years of working in television, the late Brad Davis made an impressive film debut as the tortured William Hayes. The late John Hurt received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting for his Max, a prisoner for seven years who self soothes with a self-concocted narcotic. Mike Kellin's heartbreaking performance as Billy's dad was also Oscar worthy. Giorgio Moroder's haunting music score also earned an Oscar. Another true story turned into a compelling entertainment by a gifted director.