Davis feels the Hurt
Sometimes I wonder if I watched the same movie as others because occasionally my feelings towards a movie are very different to the norm. Take "Midnight Express" based upon the true story of Billy Hayes who was caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and ended up in a Turkish prison. Now I have heard people call this movie gruesome, disturbing, horrific and yet I didn't feel that at all, yes what we see in this dramatized version of Billy's story is rough and at times brutal but not to the point I would say disturbing. Having said that "Midnight Run" is one fascinating movie and whilst being made over 30 years ago could have easily been made just a few years ago.
As Billy Hayes (Brad Davis - Chariots of Fire) prepares to return to America from Turkey he is caught at the airport trying to smuggle 2 kilos of drugs out of the country. After being roughly searched by the airport guards Billy agrees to co-operate with the local authorities to catch who supplied him but when he runs and gets caught he is thrown into prison sentenced to 4 years by a lenient judge who charges him for possession rather than smuggling. Having to deal with the inhospitable Turkish prison Billy makes a few friends and bides his time but with just over 50 days till he gets out something changes which forces Billy to change.
So as already mentioned "Midnight Express" is based upon the true story of Billy Hayes and his time inside a tough Turkish prison. Now whilst we watch Billy getting caught with 2 kilos of drugs taped to his body that isn't the focus of the movie, in fact in many ways the fact he was trying to smuggle drugs is made unimportant because this is a movie all about the drama of Turkish prison. And as such are first dose of drama comes from seeing Billy punished for grabbing a blanket, his feet beaten continuously with a heavy bat so that it hurts to stand.
Now after this we basically get an account of his life inside, the people he met, the sadistic treatment of the guards and how what happened to him about 2 months before his time was served changed him. And in fairness it is fascinating from the grotty living conditions to the way the Turkish prison system worked with one prisoner almost calling the shots. And at the same time Billy's journey is also fascinating, how he dealt with doing his time and how things changed him and in fact when we see that Billy becomes an incoherent mess after being thrown in with the insane it is hard hitting.
But this is the thing, I don't think "Midnight Express" is as hard hitting or disturbing as many say it is. Maybe it was back in the 70s or maybe it is for those who have read Billy's book about his time and can connect with it more. But watching "Midnight Express" now it doesn't have that same disturbing side which it seems to have had back when it first came out.
One thing it does have is some great performances from the likes of Randy Quaid, John Hurt and Paolo Bonacelli who all play their parts well. But the knock out performance comes from Brad Davis as Billy and in many ways it is how he gets across the transformation of Billy that is stunning. In the first half of the movie there is the gradual change in Billy, learning the ways of Turkish prison life and slowly acclimatising to them but then in the second half we see a huge change in him as he becomes incoherent and almost animalistic which is frighteningly real. In fact I would say Davis's portrayal of Billy and the way he changed is the most disturbing and brilliant aspect of "Midnight Express".
What this all boils down to is that "Midnight Express" is a compelling prison drama even now more than 30 years after it came out. But whilst it is a tough movie it is not as disturbing as I am sure it felt when released back in the 70s although some things do still shock you.