Monday, October 29, 2007

No. 15 - Straight Time

Max Dembo (Dustin Hoffman) has just been released from prison and is on parole. His parole officer (M. Emmett Walsh) has a sadistic streak and takes an instant dislike to Dembo. Dembo manages to rent a room in a flophouse and find a job on an assembly line. He wants to go straight, but his old prison buddy Gary Busey gets him into trouble. Dembo is arrested on trumped-up drug charges, and ends up returning to a life of violent crime. In other words, the system failed him.

Or did it? When Dembo was first released from prison, he failed to check into a half-way house. He visits his ex-felon friend (Busey). He violates many conditions of his parole. Then, he brutally assaults his parole officer. Dembo hits the streets, looks up his old crony Harry Dean Stanton, and embarks on a violent crime spree, starting with a liquor store hold-up, then ending up with a violent jewelry store heist that goes awry.

Dembo turns out to be a lifelong criminal, and it takes very little to lure him back to his old ways. His fate is determined by character, not by circumstance. Hoffman is superb as Dembo, a chronic criminal with the sporadic ability to appear civilized. Hoffman shows us the rage within Dembo, and we see how Dembo can never fit into polite society. The supporting cast is superb, with Theresa Russell as his straight-laced girlfriend, Walsh as the parole officer, Busey and Stanton as hapless criminals, and Kathy Bates plays Busey's wife. The scene in which she asks Dembo to stay away from her husband is heartbreaking. Even Gary Busey's son (a very young Jake Busey) gives a good performance. Credit this to Ulu Grosbard, a director who works very well with actors.

1 comment:

PackardFilm Ltd said...

sheer perfection, people forget just how good M Emmet Walsh was! My only tiny critique of this film was that Hoffman wasn't quite "sleazy" enough for the role, as absolutely brilliant, genuine and incredible his performance was, he was just a trifle too much of a "hollywood actor" to fill that character