Give me the negative and a pair of scissors
Brubaker is the new warden at Wakefield Prison, a backward, corrupt morass he is determined to reform.
The start of the film is a wonder. Brubaker enters the prison as an inmate to get the real scoop of what's going on. What happens then is a manic little slice of prison life free of exposition. Torture, intimidation, and the like exists around the inmates of the prison and their keepers. This part of the film is nearly perfect in setting a mood and establishing some of the important characters.
Brubaker takes over the prison and makes the expected waves throughout. He has the force of what's right on his side, and stand tall eliminating the day to day abuses in his facility. He uncovers the economic exploitation of the population. He makes a point of eating the same food as everyone - after he halts shipments of their intended meals into town to be sold for profit.
It can't be that easy, of course. Obstacles are thrown up - many from people inside the prison who resist change, but Brubaker proves he get on top of those in time. The really resistance is in the political establishment. The previous economic and moral balance has been fine with the prison board and the governor. The final stretch of the film is dominated by a war of words, such high and mighty speeches, that it loses much of its energy. There's some hubbub about digging up murdered inmates, and then an escaped prisoner, but these elements are pretty weak, contributing to a watered down ending.
I'd have loved seeing Brubaker stay a prisoner for most of the film. It may have been difficult to do, but it would have kept the stakes high much better than the wimpy choices the film actually makes.
On to the miscellany: The audio track here is lousy. Even if you take away the afterschool special soundtrack, the mix is high and flat, and may even suffer from clipping. Some of the acting is pretty decent. Robert Redford as Brubaker comes across believably, though somehow I hear the actor speaking in the political statements in the last half of the film. An early Yaphet Kotto captures some deep emotional ambiguities as a leading prisoner trusty. There's even an interesting appearance from Morgan Freeman as an inmate from solitary who goes over the edge just a bit.
There was some real promise in this film. It's too bad it had to go on for so long. Maybe if they cut out twenty minutes toward the end, it would have worked, but I'm voting for a new second half altogether.
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