A film like this is very relevant today as we are living through another Middle Eastern/Muslim crisis and it can be very educational to watch the late 1960s perspective. It shows us how prejudice harms and that not all foreign cultures can be bad. We see how easily propaganda can change the viewpoint of a good person. Amazing that a film like this can still offer something to today's audience.
During the time the Turkish government is trying to really crack down on drugs, crime in general and terrorism is particular. Billy Hayes (Brad Davis – Chariots of Fire) is caught during this crackdown at the border with a bag of hashish in his possession. Originally he is sentenced to four years and two months in prison. After the prosecution charges him with smuggling the sentence is raised to thirty years. Despite the best attempts of his parents, his lawyer and the American Consulate he sentence stands.
In the horrible prison Hayes concocts an escape plan, but the warden finds it out. In order to stop him from telling the plan Hayes bites off the warden's tongue. This gets him transferred to a facility for the insane. In this facility he is victim to daily abuse, hopelessness and violence. Hayes is verging on insanity and will do anything to get out. Feeling alone, he takes the biggest risk of all.
With its brutal realism and starkness, the film became quite a calling card for director Alan Parker (Angela's Ashes, Evita). It was also one of the earliest works (as a screenwriter) for Oliver Stone. What really makes the film hit home (not that it really needs that extra push) is that it is based on a true story. This actually happened to someone. Unbelievable!
Though the film is Oscar Award-winning not all is good about it. There are some horribly stereotypical portrayals (Turks are all bad and Americans are all good) in the film. These stereotypes, if you read the novel by Billy Hayes, are grossly exaggerated in the film. In the book not all Turks are evil. It will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth when you realize that media and film is how a lot of our feelings towards foreign nations are formed. They are largely slanted and biased, people! Even something as well done as this picture.
What is done well is how the co-existence of the individual and the state is a precarious one. In Parker's film neither is totally the bad guy or the good guy. The Turkish prisons are horrible for Turks as well. There is not preferential treatment. Billy Hayes is portrayed as a racist not as the perfect man. There is plenty of gray in the film. Enough to override its faults.
-The Finished Film
-The Making of Midnight Express
-Original Midnight Express Theatrical Trailer
-Photo booklet & Essay from Parker's on-set experiences