Billy Hayes (book) (as William Hayes) and
William Hoffer (book)
Oliver Stone (screenplay)
Peter Guber executive producer
Alan Marshall producer
David Puttnam producer
Brad Davis – Billy Hayes
Irene Miracle – Susan
Bo Hopkins – Tex
Paolo Bonacelli – Rifki
Paul L. Smith – Hamidou (as Paul Smith)
Randy Quaid – Jimmy Booth
Norbert Weisser – Erich
John Hurt – Max
Mike Kellin – Mr. Hayes
Franco Diogene – Yesil
Michael Ensign – Stanley Daniels
Gigi Ballista – Chief Judge
Kevork Malikyan – Prosecutor
Peter Jeffrey – Ahmet
Joe Zammit Cordina –
Yashaw Adem – (as Yashar Adem)
Tony Boyd – Aslan
Zannino – (as Zanninos Zanninou)
Michael Yannatos – Translator
Ahmed El Shenawi – Negdir
Review by John Rouse Merriott Chard
I’m Billy Hayes, well at least I used to be
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
Review by Jack Gatanella
Midnight Express (1978)
As a story and emotional experience in and of itself, it’s depressing, manipulative, and highly charged drama,
I’ve never been to Turkey, or Istanbul, and I can hold no claims as to what it must be like for a person, American or otherwise, to endure time in one of their country’s prisons. But the job of the filmmaker is not necessarily to get the facts down pat and present them as such. It’s to present a story and make it appropriate for the dramatization. Oliver Stone, who wrote the script for this and went on to controversy in bringing the true story of Jim Garrison’s trial of Clayshaw, Morrison’s life with the Doors, and the late president Nixon, knew at 31 that taking what was in the source and bringing it to a life that any audience could understand emotionally was what was important. And he, along with director Alan Parker, deliver this with conviction, if not greatness. The story of William Hayes is ugly, as depicted in the film, and despite the fact that the teal Hayes has said the depiction of some of the characters in the film is not as it was, it does not deter it for myself in the pure emotional intake.
The story at first does not sound like it will have a happy outcome- Hayes (Davis, a shattering, torn performance) tries to smuggle Hash for friends back on long island, gets caught, and is thrown in jail ‘as an example’ among others in a Turkish prison. He’s abused, and witnesses multiples abuses of prisoners young and old, and once he realizes he won’t get out nearly as soon as he thought, he and a couple of other prisoners (Randy Quaid and John Hurt, both superb in supporting roles), plan to escape, or rather ‘take the midnight express’. What occurs from there is what makes up the bulk of the drama, the hurt, and a ‘version’ of the truth in the Turskish prison system.
The thing to keep in mind in dealing with a film like Midnight Express, is that in cinematic terms, Parker and Stone pull off their goals whether or not they depict the ‘truth’ to its fullest extent. They follow the book, and on that count they try their best to bring an adaptation. From that end, I found that it was compelling, if at times almost too heavy and, oddly enough, masochistic. But what comes through strongest, after the outright point of view of the script, are the performances. Hurt is one of only several truly convincing screen junkies in movie history. The actor that plays the burly guard in the prison is absolutely terrifying. And Quaid and Hayes fill their roles finitely.
The music, ironically to me, is the one Oscar-winning drag, which sometimes adds pre-80’s sounding music that doesn’t fit as maybe it could’ve. But besides that, Midnight Express is overall a work of concentrated drama, that tries to not affect just the American collective conscious, but the world’s as well. Years from now, people who have no idea what the prison system in that country or others was like, can at least have an idea, if not altogether to the truth. A-