Billy Hayes, an American college student, is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into prison.Billy Hayes, an American college student, is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into prison.Billy Hayes, an American college student, is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into prison.
There's a problem that I have with a character played by "American Graffiti's" Bo Hopkins, who comes in and is very fluent in Turkish, and introduces himself as "sort of a representative from the U.S. Consulate". The problem that I have with this character is that we are never told his name, or why he is even there, but he is certainly a key element in the film, since he is the one who put Billy behind bars after a stupid attempt to escape.
Now, I do agree on the fact that the punishment must fit the crime, and at the beginning, the 4-year sentence that Billy's given seems to be just about right for a federal offense such as trying to smuggle drugs from one country to another, but our "hero" never seems to be able to understand the severity of his crime, and never seems to regret his actions, even coming close to demanding that his father "get him out of there". After his sentence is changed to Life in Prison, Billy goes berserk, and starts a monologue against Turkish justice, and even its people that must have caused quite a controversy back in its day.
The supporting characters are all brilliantly played, namely John Hurt in an Oscar-nominated turn as an English prisoner who has been half eaten by drugs and prison life, and who is left behind by Billy at the end, but we never are told what became of him. Randy Quaid is equally good, albeit, in a more thankless role as a fellow American who was imprisoned for 7 years after stealing a candlestick from a temple.
The movie is not easy to digest, but is realistic enough to make you feel for the leading characters, especially Billy, even though we know that he deserved to do the time, we don't feel like he deserved Life Sentence, and so, that is why the ending is so rewarding in our hearts. Rewarding not in a "Shawshank Redemption" fantasy type of a way, but in a true sense, because unlike Andy Dufresne in "Shawshank", Billy's escape is purely random, and we go along with him for the ride towards freedom, not like Andy, who snuck out the back door, and left us wanting for more. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that "Shawshank" is one of the top 5 movies that I've ever seen, but "Midnight Express" stays with you a little longer. They don't make 'em like this anymore. By the way, this was Oliver Stone's first script to be turned into a movie.
I highly recommend this movie, as it is one of the true jewels of the golden era of Hollywood in the 1970's. Check it out.
- Jul 15, 2003