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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Retro Review: Straight Time (1978)

Straight Time
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, Theresa Russell, M. Emmett Walsh, Kathy Bates
Genre: Crime Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $9 million

Plot: A paroled burglar tries to get a job and keep on the straight & narrow. His hardcore parole officer has different ideas and sends him back to jail. When he gets out again, he returns to a life of crime 

'A Forgotten Dustin Hoffman Flick With A Great Performance By Him Marred By Sluggish Pacing & Tepid Story'

A late 1970s crime drama that went unseen and a Dustin Hoffman movie that is rarely talked about, Straight Time stars Dustin Hoffman in an against-type performance as an ex-con named Max who attempts to go down the straight and narrow after his release from prison, with a parole officer breathing down his neck. But when Max encounters an old ally in Willy, it isn't long before he slips back to his old ways. 

Based on a novel written by a thief and convict, as watchable as it was in some parts, the film itself never sustained my interest and was not compelling enough. Also, it is because I'm more used to Hoffman being the type of guy who is the good guy and has good intentions in his other films. I bought into his role and performance in Midnight Cowboy, but here, sadly with the script, Straight Time didn't have more of those moments where I wanted to really enjoy it fully. It just didn't sit well with me. It was a little strange seeing Dustin play against type and playing a different type of character that his fans and the audience, in general, don't tend to associate him as. Yet this role would have still been a good one for him, had Max had any characterisation to him, yet he barely does so and because of that, Dustin is having to go beyond his usual typical and conventional performances to really bring Max to life.  

Straight Time had its moments, but story-wise, I felt it was lacking on occasions and it just wasn't engrossing as it should have been. Its pacing was so sluggish, it made it a bit of a chore to endure. This film practically lost me right after Max had robbed a grocery store, only to win me back with the love scene - only to lose me again. In-between the moments where Max handcuffs the prison warden and pulls down his trousers/pants & exposing his behind, the main bank robbery & the grocery store robbery, I was feeling indifferent towards this film. The first half I enjoyed but after that, I was switching off in places and it didn't hold my attention long enough. The occasional bursts of moments, in addition to the sluggish pacing, did affect my overall enjoyment. Russell herself didn't blow me away as her character was mostly one-dimensional and one note-ish who has no motivations for any of her actions. The love story didn't really add anything to the film to make it more worthwhile. The remaining performances were well done, especially by Gary Busey and Kathy Bates as the couple. 

Dubbed a crime drama, in spite of its interesting premise, it becomes a dramatic movie with so few thrilling and engaging scenes to give it the extra boost Straight Time needed. The director didn't do justice to this film or to his cast and thus that sentiment was pretty much felt by Dustin Hoffman who had initially directed this film and after several days, he handed the directing reigns to Ulu Grosbard, only to have fought with him over the end product. Hoffman still considers it as one of his finest performances. 

Thank goodness for Hoffman, whose presence and scenes alone just about make it watchable for me, just. Because other than that, everything else such as the story was told in a way that is frankly mundane.  

Final Verdict:

Being an avid admirer of so many of Dustin Hoffman's roles and movies, I really wanted to get on board with Straight Time, yet unfortunately, despite its good intentions, its execution left me wanting more from the film, but at the same time, the tedium in the story and its arduous pacing began to sink through and had ultimately affected my enjoyment. There are so few watchable moments and scenes besides the robberies and the last third themselves. 

Dustin, as ever, is great - even if it is a tad eerie to see him in this, but he is far from his best here, performance-wise compared to many of the other movies he has starred in and the film itself is so not one of his best; I wasn't too fond of his character, plus it dragged so often and despite his notable efforts, it just isn't enough to make up for what it is a really underwhelming and less than compelling crime flick with a tepid story. 

Thereupon Straight Time, as far as Dustin Hoffman movies go, is one that is underwhelming and is in many regards, for me anyway, sadly and inexplicably forgettable (although this opinion may change after several views).

*score last updated: 17 October, 2017*


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