Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Of all of Dustin Hoffman’s storied performances, the one least known may be his fiercely modulated portrait of ex-con Max Dembo in 1978’s Straight Time (Warner, $20). Hoffman’s greasy, low-key lead is an unsavory but memorable concoction-- sympathetic, forlorn and frightening, while the supporting class is beyond cool (Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, Theresa Russell, Kathy Bates and M. Emmet Walsh at his sleazeball best as scummy parole officer). The movie, long a cult fave, gains more cult cache by boasting contributions from acclaimed theatre director Ulu Grosbard doing one of his infrequent turns as a movie maker (True Confessions ’81, Georgia ’95) and screenwriter/novelist/bit actor Edward Bunker (who also penned Runaway Train ’85 and Animal Factory ’00, two other con flicks) adapting his own book. Straight Time is another of those wonderfully unsentimental 70’s American films, where the hard-boiled rubs against the mundane amidst the dreariest of settings, resulting in a unique dynamic that manages to be both spirited and understated, ardent yet low-key; the kind of 70’s American cinema that (for a little while) so successfully passed off the representational for the real with a unique cinematic frisson.