Midnight Express, dir. Alan Parker, scr. Oliver Stone, based on Midnight Express by Billy Hayes & William Hoffer, st. Brad Davis, Randy Quaid, John Hurt, Paul L. Smith, Irene Miracle
Regardless of the film's notoriety for its portrayal of Turkey as a country that zealously turns its nose up at Human Rights and depicts its inhabitants as venal, corrupt, sadistic and generally unpleasant, Parker's Midnight Express nonetheless reaped rewards in the shape of Oscar wins both for Giorgio Moroder's Moog-tastic score and Stone's inflammatory screenplay that arguably holds primary culpability in sexing-up the appalling conditions depicted onscreen. The late Brad Davis stars as Billy Hayes, the American student who attempted to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul in 1970, was caught and detained at Sagmacilar prison, and subsequently escaped to Greece in 1975. Both Hayes and Stone have acknowledged the detrimental effect Midnight Express has had on Turkey and its inhabitants over the years, but in the intervening years since 1978, time has done much to illustrate how such events aren't restricted to Turkey alone, with a grand roll-call of Human Rights abuses having been recorded from all over the world. Neither does Midnight Express seem to be concerned with contextualizing the abject cruelty doled out to Hayes and his incarcerated cohorts. A few set-pieces and characters memorably resonate - Hurt's addict, cat-loving inmate Max, the pillar room sequence in which the prisoners shuffle clockwise around a vast stone column ("a good Turk always walks to the right") set deep within the asylum's Danteish catacombs - but Hayes' descent isn't as smoothly transitioned as it might be (not withstanding a vigorously impassioned turn from Davis), and the tormentors-in-chief aren't particularly drawn in much detail. All of which detracts from the sympathy we're supposed to feel for Hayes - that and the fact that such indignation is a little hard to swallow when you remember his crime was voluntarily and not as a result of any coercion.