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  • Daniel Rae

Midnight Express Review


"Midnight Express", Columbia Pictures, 1978


This is a film that just seeps in atmosphere and murkiness, effectively exploring the emotional torment and the journey into the complete institutionalisation of identity towards characters that audiences are not meant to identify with, however the direction of the treatment bypasses some of the fundamental rules of storytelling that would otherwise keep me emotionally invested all the way through.

Mise en scene is completely drenched in sandy and decrepit oranges and yellows, which manages to bring enough tonal variety to underpin this sense of powerlessness that haunts Davis' Billy very poignantly. This rich sense of graininess perfectly highlights the inhumane and emotionally-bankrupt way of the prison workings that echoes the power of the guards on an almost omnipotent level, serving a more psychologically twisting purpose than just acting as stems of conflict. This seediness also opens the room for some very crude imagery, where the influence of film-noir pours in with the chiaroscuro lighting, whilst managing to maintain a soberingly real and grounded sense of vulnerability; it actually enhances the moodiness by managing to twist this other-worldly feeling into the aesthetic. Parker's direction plays very well into this, managing to work with a script whilst being able to bring out the primality of each of these characters, who each present a distinct insight into prison life that ultimately ensnares the motivations of the protagonist, for both good and bad. The story attatched to the character's experience meanders, which is is presented with a very tense sense of pacing, proving to be a brilliant format in underlining the degradation of identity whilst maintaining emotional investment in these characters. The flashes of progression the diegesis shows, like with the notion of the "Midnight Express" itself, is handled fittingly peevishly, effectively outlining the tarnished fantasy of escape that this world holds.

Nevertheless, whilst the way the story handles the change in character motivations and plotpoints is effective in building upon mood, this unveils the lack of a real tangible narrative that the story actually follows. This can be seen with seconds-long tangents that fall out of place to the pacing of the wider diegesis, often only using that time to pigeonhole more surrealist-tinged imagery, as brilliant a job it does in brewing the brooding atmosphere. Whilst the screenplay recognises that this is a character-driven film used as a character-study of an individual completely transformed by systemic oppression, the lack of any true progression highlights how the story accompanying the feeling that the filmmakers were wanting to get across was a somewhat second thought.

Overall, this is a very contemplative film and the way that it gauged my interest was very unique.


4/5 Stars

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