On October 6, 1970 while boarding an international flight out of Istanbul Airport, American Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is caught attempting to smuggle two kilos of hashish out of the country, the drugs strapped to his body. He is told that he will be released if he cooperates with the authorities in identifying the person who sold him the hashish. Billy's troubles really begin when after that assistance, he makes a run for it and is recaptured. He is initially sentenced to just over four years for possession, with no time for the more harsh crime of smuggling. The prison environment is inhospitable in every sense, with a sadistic prison guard named Hamidou (Paul L. Smith) ruling the prison, he who relishes the mental and physical torture he inflicts on the prisoners for whatever reason. Told to trust no one, Billy does befriend a few of the other inmates, namely fellow American Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid) (in for stealing two candlesticks from a mosque), a Swede named Erich (Norbert ...Written by
The movie is set in 1970. When Billy Hayes makes a visit to the toilet at the airport to wash his face, there is a poster on the wall showing a shot of the Bosphorus Bridge which was built in 1973. See more »
[Susan makes her way through a line at an airline checkpoint]
Excuse me... Excuse me... Excuse me... Excuse me.
[she reaches Billy in line]
Geez, I hate flying.
It's something I ate. I think I've been poisoned.
Or you're just excited about getting home.
No, I think it's the baklavas.
[...] See more »
The Columbia Pictures logo is played in complete silence. See more »
Some of the VHS and Betamax copies included text before the end credits run that did not appear on the DVD and Blu-ray copies "On May 18,1978 the motion picture you have just seen was shown to an audience of world press at the Cannes Film Festival.... 43 days later the United States and Turkey entered into formal negotations for the exchange of prisoners." See more »
Midnight Express is directed by Alan Parker and adapted to screenplay by Oliver Stone. It is loosely based on Billy Hayes' book of the same name. It tells of American Hayes' (Brad Davis) arrest and subsequent conviction for trying to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul, Turkey, for which he was sent to a hellish Turkish prison to serve his time. It also stars Randy Quaid, John Hurt, Paul L. Smith and Irene Miracle. Music is scored by Giorgio Moroder and cinematography is by Michael Seresin.
Although controversy followed it due to its portrayals of the Turkish people, Midnight Express is today still a raw and uncompromising experience. In fact if we strip away Moroder's Oscar winning electro bubbling score, the film holds up as a fresh and pertinent piece of film making. Parker doesn't cut corners or attempt any sort of Hollywood gloss, he keeps it grimy, oppressive and harsh in its telling, whilst the hand-held camera work keeps things jittery, harmonising with Billy Hayes and his fellow cons' state of mind. The narrative unfurls from Billy's POV, and it's mostly in a downwards direction, with that it's hard to call the picture essential entertainment, we are after all observant to mental and physical abuse, with the disintegration of the human spirit front and centre. Billy's alienation is deftly crafted by Parker, where the non use of subtitles for the Turkish characters helps us to feel as isolated as Billy was. However, there's the odd glimmer of hope and humanity, courtesy of Billy's interactions within the few friendships he forms, and of course there's the overriding urge to see him escape his hell.
Stone won the Academy Award for his screenplay, and even though it has been frowned upon for some of the perceived bile unleashed on the Turks, it mostly excels on a human's under duress basis. The interactions between prisoners is often solemn and edgy, due to the characters being from different walks of life, while much of Hayes' outpourings of emotion have conviction by way of the words; even if one particular "speech" is ill advised and over the top. Cast are excellent, where Davis calls on the sadness in his real life upbringing to give a performance of real intensity, while Hurt and Quaid are beaten down by drug fuelled resignation and tempestuousness respectively. It has flaws, and the over dramatising of certain events tends to deviate from a real story that hardly needed extra oomph, but always Midnight Express remains a harrowing and potent piece of cinema. 8/10
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