Straight Time

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STRAIGHT TIME  has  lifelong con Dustin Hoffman get out of the slammer after six years, and in short order start a predictable slide back into the swamp. This 1978 drama was directed by stage veteran Ulu Grosbard, who took over chores from Hoffman.

One missed or screwed-up situation after another greets the parolee, but his own predilection and experience contribute to his downfall as much as bad luck and fate. The hot water he’s bound for is heated up by encounters with his parole officer, an insufferable anus, expertly put over by M.Emmett Walsh. The boiling point for these two comes when Hoffman leaves Walsh handcuffed to a divider fence on a freeway in broad daylight, with his pants down.

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It’s a rouser of a scene, but fortunately for the good of the movie (and your reviewers blood pressure) our hearts aren’t asked to bleed for the criminal subculture because of tripe like “it’s all society’s fault”. This jerk and his scumbag pals are presented as the stupid, lazy bullies that they are, down to their tacky pseudo-macho print shirts and their giggly glee after robbing innocent people at shotgun point.

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Co-star Harry Dean Stanton was born to play renegades like this, and once again makes the seedy most of it. Gary Busey is on hand, but we don’t get to see enough of him (his son Jake is introduced in this film as well, age 7). As always, Theresa Russell projects an effortless sexuality, but otherwise is so laid-back her character is barely there.

Most would disagree, but I think the film’s central flaw, oddly, is the casting of Dustin Hoffman. It’s not that he does anything wrong, it’s just that he can’t project a compelling sense of menace. He delivers, but he doesn’t fully convince. This, and the over-deliberate pacing (114 minutes seem like 150) make the end result an only moderately interesting as opposed to riveting drama. I’m in the minority on this, and most critics lauded him and the film, which brought in $9,900,000.

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With Rita Taggart, Kathy Bates (at 30, in her first notable movie assignment), Sandy Baron and last but least Edward Bunker, the ex-con whose novel the script was based on. The late Mr. Bunker offered his street wisdom when asked if he would feel any responsibility if a rogue bullet from one of his stickups killed an innocent kid. No, he argued that since people know banks can get robbed, the mother should have kept her child away. Thanks for the memories, Eddie.

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