Forever embroiled in controversy, Midnight Express
divides viewers into opposing camps: those who think it's one of the most intense real-life dramas ever made, and those who abhor its manipulative tactics and alteration of facts for the exploitative purpose of achieving a desired effect. That effect is powerfully achieved, regardless of how you may feel about director Alan Parker and Oscar®-winning screenwriter Oliver Stone's interpretation of the story of Billy Hayes. It was the American Hayes--played by the late Brad Davis in an unforgettable performance--who was caught smuggling two kilograms of hashish while attempting to board a flight from Istanbul, Turkey, in 1970. He was sentenced to four years in a hellish Turkish prison on a drug possession charge, but his sentence was later extended (though not by 30 years, as the film suggests), and Hayes endured unthinkable brutality and torture before his escape in 1975.
Unquestionably, this is a superbly crafted film, provoking a visceral response that's powerful enough to boil your blood. By the time Hayes erupts in an explosion of self-defensive violence, Parker and Stone have proven the power--and danger--of their skill. Their film is deeply manipulative, extremely xenophobic, and embellishes reality to heighten its calculated impact. Is that a crime? Not necessarily, and there's no doubt that Midnight Express is expertly directed and blessed with exceptional supporting performances (especially from John Hurt as a long-term prisoner). Still, it's obvious that strings are being pulled, and Parker, while applying his talent to a nefarious purpose, is a masterful puppeteer. --Jeff Shannon