Straight Time



Jurassic Mark

SCORE: 3 Stars

Writer/Actor/Director Buck Henry once saw Dustin Hoffman in a play. Hoffman starred as a gay, paraplegic German. According to Henry, at least two out of three had to be true. I guess Henry figured that if a man from L..A.. could play a gay, paraplegic German, he could probably do just about anything. Henry co-wrote the screenplay for The Graduate; recommended Hoffman, and the rest is history.

Hoffman has always portrayed diverse characters. When I watch Rico Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, I don't see Dorothy Michaels (or Michael Dorsey) from Tootsie. When I watch Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man, I don't see Ted from Kramer vs. Kramer.

Hoffman was once considered for the role of Michael Corleone. In hindsight, Al Pacino proved beyond a doubt that he was perfectly cast as the Don. However, in 1978's Straight Time, Hoffman demonstrates why he was originally considered.

Straight Time tells the story of a career criminal. As the movie begins, he is released from prison after serving six years for burglary. Max is assigned a seedy parole officer (M. Emmet Walsh). Max tries to re-enter society. He quickly gets a minimum wage job. He finds a cheap apartment. He finds a girl who cares about him even though she knows his past.

So far, so good. But, Max still hangs out with the wrong crowd. One of his friends is an ex-con (Gary Busey) who isn't very bright. Another friend (Harry Dean Stanton) leads a middle-class suburban life (complete with swimming pool), but longs for the adrenalin rush of the heist.

But, Max's greatest enemy is Max himself. Nobody has to twist his rubber arm to leave the "straight life" for robbing banks and jewelry stores. Yeah, he got screwed over by his parole officer. But, it's during the robbery scenes where we finally find out what Max is all about. The change that comes over Max in the film's final act is startling when we consider the man who seamed so earnest in the beginning of the movie. His character makes a complete arc.

Straight Time works splendidly because every scene either advances the story or develops a major character. Nothing is wasted. My only criticism is that the movie inadvertently glamorizes the life of the criminal. To Straight Time's credit, I can't think of a single gangster film that doesn't. Even if the criminal gets what they deserve, most of us find these movies entertaining.