Dustin Hoffman plays Max Dembo, a burglar out on parole after serving six years. He initially makes a committed effort to reintegrate into society, getting a nowhere job in a can factory and dating placement agent Theresa Russell. But when parole officer M. Emmet Walsh unfairly targets him, Hoffman gives it up and returns to a life of crime, his violent and self-destructive urges making a bad situation that much worse.
Interestingly, the more unlikable Hoffman’s character becomes, …he more compelling the film gets as incidents pile up. There is enormous fun today in seeing not just Hoffman but the likes of Gary Busey, Kathy Bates and Harry Dean Stanton as they were in 1978. The principal weakness is Russell’s character, who, despite her importance to Hoffman, is underwritten, her motivations for staying with this psycho murky, when all the other characters are sharply drawn.
The mono soundtrack is warm, and the music has a very satisfying richness to it, as these things go. There is, however, a noticeable amount of distortion plaguing the dialogue, especially in the early goings.
Get past the rather dirty opening credits, and the print looks very nice. The grain is minimal, when it is present at all. The colours are consistently strong, as are the contrasts, flesh tones and blacks. The image is sharp. Edge enhancement isn’t a problem. Those credits aside, there is very little evidence of the print being almost 30 years old.
The commentary track is made up of separately recorded thoughts offered by Hoffman and director Ulu Grosbard. Particularly interesting are Hoffman’s memories of his conversations (some of them frightening) with convict Edward Bunker, who wrote the book the film is based on. The theatrical trailer is here, along with a rather interesting vintage promotional featurette.
The weak spot of Russell’s character notwithstanding, this is a striking, intense little piece.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Vintage Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer