Friday, March 01, 2019

Midnight Express

Based on the non-fiction novel by Billy Hayes and William Hoffer, Midnight Express is the story of an American student in Turkey who is sent to prison for smuggling hashish as he tries to escape. Directed by Alan Parker and screenplay by Oliver Stone, the film is a prison drama set in Turkey where a young man befriends other prisoners as he would also endure torture as the character of Hayes is played by Brad Davis. Also starring Randy Quaid, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli, Paul L. Smith, Norbert Weisser, Peter Jeffrey, and John Hurt. Midnight Express is a haunting and gripping film from Alan Parker.

Told in the span of five years from 1970 to 1975, an American student named Billy Hayes is trying to smuggle 2kg of hashish in Turkey where he is sent to prison as he endures its torturous setting. It’s a film that is a prison drama set in one of the most brutal prisons in the world where this young American has to deal with beatings, horrific conditions, and prisoners who are more likely to kill you than be your friends. Oliver Stone’s screenplay opens with Hayes trying to smuggle as much hashish as he could yet Turkish custom officers know something is up. While an American official named Tex (Bo Hopkins) a deal for Hayes to find out who supplied him the hashish and be sent back to America without any trouble. Hayes becomes aware that something isn’t right where he is sent to prison as much of the film’s first act is about Hayes dealing with being in prison and his first trial where the prosecutor wants to give him a harsher punishment but the judge ruled that Hayes would serve a four-year sentence.

The film’s second act moves towards 1974 just as he had befriended an American prisoner in Jimmy (Randy Quaid), a British heroin addict named Max (John Hurt), and a Swede in Erich (Norbert Weisser) where Jimmy is eager to plot an escape from prison as it’s considered an impossible task. With 53 days left of his sentence, Hayes believes he will finally come home but an appeal by the prosecutor to the Turkish High Court changes everything as the sentence is expanded to 30 years. It play into this sense of loss and injustice that Hayes endured yet he is someone who had taken responsibility for his actions and felt that he’s done his time. It would lead to him, Jimmy, and Max to try and escape with its third act set in 1975 as it play into Hayes’ frustration as well as some of the corrupt elements of the prison where a prisoner in Rifki (Paolo Bonacelli) has made deals with guards and such that would help them both financially.

Alan Parker’s direction is astonishing in its approach to suspense and drama from the way he opens the film with Hayes trying to put as much hashish on his body and him at the airport hoping to get past customs. Shot mainly on location in Fort Saint Elmo in Valetta, Malta in Italy as Parker and his crew were unable to shoot on location in Istanbul as they were denied access to the location. The usage of Fort Saint Elmo would create this world that is Istanbul in the early 1970s where it’s a place where a lot of hippies would go there to get high but when one breaks the law there. The usage of wide shots get a look at the many locations as well as the prison itself where it is this unforgiving environment that is detached from the outside world where the prisoners have little clue of what is happening. The usage of close-ups and medium shots play into the space and intimacy in some of the rooms and cells along with the bathrooms and other rooms in the prison. Parker’s usage of tracking shots and careful compositions that include some of the trial scenes help play into the drama as well as Hayes’ struggle where he does what he can to maintain his sanity.

Parker’s direction also play into the brutality of prison where it’s much more different in Turkey where the warden will beat a man’s feet with his club or will do things that will break you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s also a place where there’s few allies as where you mess with a prisoner, that prisoner will find a way to fight back. The film does feature some narration from Hayes as he’s writing letters to loved ones as endures his sentence while he, Jimmy, and Max would try to find a way out of prison. The film’s third act that takes place in 1975 which is about the attempted escapes but also Hayes’ action upon learning about what Rifki had been doing play into this act of desperation to escape once he and Max are sent to an asylum for the duration of their sentences. Overall, Parker crafts a visceral yet intense film about an American student serving time in a Turkish prison which is one of the most unforgiving places in the world.

Cinematographer Michael Seresin does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural lighting for many of the daytime exterior scenes as well as its usage of available lighting for many of the interiors including some scenes set at night. Editor Gerry Hambling does excellent work with the editing as it does have some unique rhythms that help play into the suspense and drama including some slow-motion cuts for a fight scene. Production designer Geoffrey Kirkland and art director Evan Hercules do amazing work with the look of the prison cells, courtrooms, and other places in the prisons and asylum as it adds to its harsh and brutal conditions.

Costume designer Milena Canonero does fantastic work with the costumes with the look of the ragged clothes that the prisoners wear including some of the ragged hippie-like clothing that Hayes, Jimmy, and Erich wear. Sound mixer Clive Winter does terrific work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the prison in the inside as well as the sense of terror and dread that occurs inside. The film’s music by Giorgio Moroder is great as it is largely a synthesizer-driven score that feature some intense pieces as well as somber pieces that play into some of the drama including a romantic moment between Hayes and Erich as it’s one of the film’s highlights.

The film’s superb cast feature some notable small roles from Michael Yannatos as a court translator, Peter Jeffrey as a British insane asylum patient Hayes meets late in the film in Ahmet, Gigi Ballista as a sympathetic Turkish judge, Michael Ensign as an American ambassador in Turkey, Franco Diogene as the Turkish lawyer Yesil, Mike Kellin as Hayes’ father, Yashaw Adem as the airport customs chief, and Kevork Malikyan as the prosecutor who wants Hayes to suffer for his actions. Bo Hopkins is terrific as a mysterious American official known as Tex who offers Hayes a deal only to work with the Turkish government in ensuring that Hayes goes to prison. Irene Miracle is wonderful as Hayes’ girlfriend Susan who was in Turkey when he got busted as she would later visit him late in the film in a weirdly-comical moment in the film.

Norbert Weisser is fantastic as the Swedish smuggler Erich as a man who sympathizes with Hayes as they briefly engage into a homosexual relationship to defy the country’s anti-gay laws. Paul L. Smith is excellent as the brutal prison warden Hamidou as this man that has great joy in beating up his prisoners as well as doing some of the most terrifying things to them. Paolo Bonacelli is brilliant as Rifki as a Turkish prisoner whom Hayes has to share his cell with as he and Max don’t like him much as he’s also someone that seems to have a lot of connection that can make his stay comfortable. Randy Quaid is amazing as Jimmy as an American prisoner who is in prison for stealing candles at a mosque as someone that is eager to get out any way he can despite the beatings he’s taken where he is determined to get out of Turkey and find salvation in Greece.

John Hurt is incredible as the English heroin addict Max as a man who is an offbeat figure as a man who is also willing to get out but knows a lot about law and such yet is driven to the edge over Rifki’s actions. Finally, there’s Brad Davis in an incredible performance as Billy Hayes as a young American student who gets caught smuggling hashish where he is later sent to Turkish prison as Davis displays a young man that is na├»ve in what he was trying to do and learn from his problems only to deal with the injustice where he becomes angry and determined to get out of Turkey any way he can.

Midnight Express is a sensational film from Alan Parker. Featuring a great cast, Oliver Stone’s riveting screenplay, dazzling visuals, and a hypnotic music score by Giorgio Moroder. It’s a film that explore the dangerous world of Turkish prisons as well as what men have to endure in a world that is far more intense as well as to find some sort of hope where the rules are different than their usual surroundings. In the end, Midnight Express is a phenomenal film from Alan Parker.

Alan Parker Films: (Play for Today-The Evacuees) - (Bugsy Malone) – (Fame (1980 film)) – (Shoot the Moon) – Pink Floyd: The Wall - (Birdy) – (Angel Heart) – (Mississippi Burning) – (Come See the Paradise) – (The Commitments) – (The Road to Wellville) – (Evita) – (Angela’s Ashes) – (The Life of David Gale)

© thevoid99 2019

1 comment:

Chris said...

Agree it's a great prison movie and yes the acting is superb. Turkey was understandably mad at the filmmakers as tourism dropped significantly after the release. Makes sense folks were apprehensive about travelling there if they had seen this movie. Scary to think it's based on fact.