- Dustin Hoffman not only stars as parolee ex-con Max Dembo- but this was a passion project for Hoffman (a major player in 1978 of course) and he was actually planning to get behind the camera himself before Ulu Grosbard was ultimately chosen to direct.
- The source material is Edward Bunker’s novel and it not only a gripping character study and crime film- but a sort of expose on the treatment of ex-cons. Bunker’s debut novel was “No Beast So Fierce” and if elements of the film feel authentic (and they do)- Bunker was an actual ex-con and wrote from experience.
- With his 1978 mustache and sideburns- Hoffman has shrugged off his boyish looks in films like Little Big Man and The Graduate and is believable here as an ex-con.
- Straight Time patiently and effectively builds Hoffman’s character. There are long sequences of Hoffman just drifting in Los Angeles and the script details the sad realities of Dembo getting a terrible place to live, to work, and the debilitating and humiliating restrictions of life as a parolee. The film captures the realism of his manufacturing job at the canning factory- and the showers at the Los Angeles County jail.
- The supporting players in Straight Time help make this more than a one-man show. M. Emmet Walsh (got his start in Midnight Cowboy and Little Big Man – two Hoffman films) is just awesome as Dembo’s parole officer as he invades Dembo’s privacy and chains him to the bed.
- This is just the second film for young Theresa Russell (21-years old here). And it is a huge compliment to Russell’s abilities as an actor that Hoffman (at the height of his powers) does not blow her off the screen. There is a sadness to her character. She acts as if she is the lead character in her own movie- which is what you want with any supporting actor- for a character to have a backstory.
- Harry Dean Stanton is always good- and Gary Busey plays Dembo’s ex-con buddy. This is the same year as Busey’s The Buddy Holly Story. Kathy Bates (in her first archiveable film) plays Busey’s wife.
- One of the standout sequences for Hoffman is when he is thrown into the county jail and Russell’s character comes to visit- Dembo is just absolutely defeated.
- Dembo’s arc is the story- and he breaks down and pulls a robbery halfway through the film. The film was already strong when Harry Dean shows up at this point and it turns into a heist film.
Edward Bunker himself plays Mickey – a criminal at the bar. This is phenomenal casting and it had to be Hoffman’s idea (Hoffman also insisted Sydney Pollack play his agent in Tootsie in 1982). It seems very natural for Bunker to say lines like “he’s a good thief for his age”. Tarantino would cast Bunker as Mr. Blue in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs.
- Dembo falls apart on the job and cannot help himself- tragic- if there are some similarities to Dembo’s character and Heat, Michael Mann was one of the uncredited writers who worked on the script.
- Recommend but not in the top 10 of 1978
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