Midnight Express (1978)
Reviewed on 2008 October 22
Very scary movie in its own right; I wondered why Stephen King thought of it as a horror movie until I watched it and had a nightmare about that goon Hamidou.
This is based (loosely) on the story of Billy Hayes, an American caught trying to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul and sentenced to more than thirty years in a hellhole prison. I know that the movie is an exaggeration, and that Hayes was crazy to try to sneak drugs out of an Islamic nation, and that he broke the law. I’m just reviewing the movie on its own merits. Oliver Stone may sprinkle the truth in his movies the way some timid cooks use hot sauce, but he sure knows how to get your attention. The film starts with Billy (Brad Davis) wearing nothing but his tighty-whities and bricks of what appears to be enough hash to fuel the philosophy departments of a dozen colleges, trying to psych himself up while the sound of a heartbeat pulses away on the soundtrack. He’s going to try to get through the airport wearing several bricks of this stuff, and might have gotten away with it, had a bomb scare not alerted the guards to be extra vigilant. One look at Billy’s sweaty hands and nervous face (and dope “girth”), and he’s done.
It looks like Hayes will get a sentence of four years, but things shift politically and it’s decided to make an example of him. He’s swept back into the prison, and it looks like he’s going to rot there. He has two friends that are suffering with him: the drug-addicted Brit, Max (Jonathan Hurt), and the bull-headed American, Jimmy (Randy Quaid, doing what I think is his best work ever). He’s overwhelmed at the thought of being there, the thought of never getting home again, of the idea that anything could set off the sadistic guards.
There were a couple parts that were just too much, both cinematographically and just to stomach, but director Alan Parker handled the dark subject without making it unwatchable. The music was good too, with an Oscar®-winning Moroder score that incorporated Eastern sounds into ’70s synthesized music. Stone won an Oscar for his screenplay. There was a lot of controversy over the almost cartoony depiction of the Turks, and that Billy Hayes himself later said a lot of what’s in the movie didn’t happen. Real or not, Hamidou is one of the most horrible men I’ve ever seen.
Three chocolate morsels.