Midnight Express is the true story of a young American who is caught trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey and is made an example of by the courts and left to rot in a Turkish prison.
Alan Parker’s extremely bleak prison drama is probably a little light on historical accuracy – it was adapted by Oliver Stone from a book written by the prisoner himself, hardly the most objective of viewpoints – but strong on atmosphere and tone. It’s one of those films where you start thinking “this isn’t so bad”, but whenever hope is presented, the rug is yanked from under them resulting in a spiralling sense of hopelessness and degradation. Parker’s direction has a great use of location and composition and the central performances believable, but it does have a few weaknesses; the soundtrack is clumsy and intrusive and the “forbidden love” montage that probably seemed so daring at the time now seems very, very clumsy and tame. It has also been accused of racism as the Turkish guards are shown as such sadists but then again, this is a prison drama so you’re not exactly going to see the best a society has to offer.
A grimly solid prison drama that can be a little heavy on the melodrama, but it works.