*Midnight Express is prison slang for “escaping.”
Also, Turkish Revenge is prison slang for “getting stabbed in the ass.” In case you were wondering.
That’s one of the strong points of 1978’s MIDNIGHT EXPRESS; it definitely gets its message across effectively. The psychological anguish and physical strain Billy Hayes sustains is incredibly visceral. There’s not too much in the way of forced melodrama or graphic violence (aside from a bitten off tongue or two), but it’s still a taxing experience for the viewer, who really gets a sense of the emotional toll the main character suffers. The scenes with his dad are plain hard to watch, as is the infamous “behind the glass” moment between Hayes and his girlfriend. Half of the credit goes to the confident direction by Alan Parker and an Oscar-winning script by a young Oliver Stone. (The accuracy of Stone’s screenplay and its bias against the Turkish has come under heavy criticism in recent years, but we’ll ignore that and view the film as a standalone work.) The remaining half then belongs to a talented cast, including an enjoyably insane John Hurt, a skinny Randy Quaid, and the late Brad Davis, who commits fully to the mentally tortured Hayes.
Even though Davis gives a fantastic performance, the film is greatly hindered by the fact that his central character is kind of a dumbass. His situation may be unfair and unjustified by American judicial standards, but a lot of the “outrageous” treatment he suffers is due to his own misbehavior. There are parts where it almost seems like Hayes wants to stay in trouble. (Telling the judge, “I f*ck your sons and daughters because they're pigs!”—not a smart move in any country.) And honestly the Turkish jail he’s at isn’t that bad. Based on what I heard about MIDNIGHT EXPRESS before watching it (not to mention the cringe-inducing cover), I was expecting HOSTEL-style incarceration. Instead, he’s sent to a prison that has no cells, lax security and a full volleyball court. At one point the guy even complains to his jailer, “You make crummy tea!” That doesn’t exactly make it easy for us to sympathize with the main character.
Commentary by director Alan Parker: Parker is a bit monotone, but he offers an informative nonstop commentary that’s worth listening for fans. My favorite part is his response to being offered to direct THE WIZ instead of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS: “I didn’t like that.”
The Producers (25:49): Three of the film’s producers sit down and share stories about the film’s journey to production and eventual reception.
The Production (24:27): Again, no fluff; just discussion with Alan Parker, Oliver Stone, John Hurt and others on whatever they can remember about MIDNIGHT EXPRESS.
The Finished Film (23:47): Parker and co. express their opinions on how things turned out for the film, especially compared to Hayes’ original account and the controversy regarding its authenticity. The group also reminisces about the late Brad Davis and his method performance.
Photo Gallery and Previews.
The DVD also comes with a comprehensive Booklet featuring a detailed memoir by Alan Parker on the making of the movie. A very nice addition.
Extra Tidbit: Stone apologized to Turkey in 2004 for the “many broken hearts” that arose from their negative depiction in his screenplay. Meanwhile, the rest of the world waits for an apology for ALEXANDER.