'Midnight Express' Review: Not A Turkey Vacation Video
Midnight Express is one of those movies that I had been meaning to watch for years, calling my attention after watching clips of it during a “The Directors” documentary centered on Alan Parker. This past month taught me to level my expectations, and I’m glad I did for I found to be Midnight Express quite a good movie, but one with some notable flaws.
Alan Parker’s Midnight Express tells the true-life story of Billy Hayes, a man convicted of smuggling drugs in Turkey. Once in prison, he has to endure abuse from the guards, a sentence that keeps getting longer and longer, and being separated from his country and home. All the while he loses his humanity.
Right off the bat, the film has a great story. You could criticize Hayes all you want for all the trouble he got himself into, but the unfair and violent system into which he’s thrown in makes you beg for the movie to let him go. Parker gives a very atmospheric touch to the film, giving the prison a frightening, claustrophobic and disgusting look. Brad Davis’ performance is outstanding. Of the movies I watched for this month, this was the one with a performance that absolutely blew me away. I was very sad to learn that Davis didn’t do much more work later on because he passed away soon after. This is an actor I could see him do many great roles over the years. He captures and nails every single side of Hayes’ character.
The movie was accused of being xenophobic and racist against Turks. The accusers do have a case here, and it’s what weakens the movie. It’s understandable that that kind of exaggeration is necessary in order to provide a grim atmosphere for the story. But every single Turk in the movie is either sleazy or outright a monster, without hardly any discernable difference. The movie also puts itself against Turkish food and champions burgers over it. Although it’s understandable that this was the movie’s way of conveying homesickness, you can tell just by this detail that the movie isn’t really one for subtlety.
The rest of the film is so good that this is almost easily forgiven, but it’s awkward to watch and robs credibility. The electronic score by Giorgio Moroder doesn’t always mesh well with the film, and even makes it feel more dated than it should. It even proves a little distracting, but it does a fine job of ratcheting up the tension and creating a sense of dread.
Overall, Midnight Express is a good film and one with enough material to be taken seriously, but sadly, its portrayal of Turks is just too silly. But the rest of the movie is a scary, harrowing ride. Although there are more explicit and harsher movies, if you don’t think you can handle it, don’t watch it. Everyone else who wants to watch a great drama has to see it, at least for Brad Davis’ performance.