Exciting crime drama with a great performance from Dustin Hoffman. The supporting cast is pretty good too; Theresa Russell as his alluring girlfriend Jenny, and his two hapless partners Willy (Gary Busey) and Jerry (Harry Dean Stanton). Most intriguing is M. Emmet Walsh as his parole officer.
Walsh’s Earl is the catalyst for the plot splitting into two parts. The introductory scenes show Hoffman’s Max appearing to readjust to life as a citizen. Then he suddenly exacts a humiliating revenge on Earl, leading to a noir-like descent into an obsessive crime spree. Earl is a manipulative guy, acting folksy and sympathetic, while finding ways to trip up Max.
What’s not as noticeable until Max gets rid of Earl, is that Max is even more manipulative. Max breaks the rules from the start, shifting the blame adroitly. He feels entitled to whatever he wants, and he’s never satisfied, even when stealing. His partner’s right when he says that Max acts like a little kid; stubbornly, but inexplicably taking his time with their heists. Ultimately, that self-destructive tendency leads to one partner’s betrayal, and the other’s death.
As others have noted, it’s hard to see why Jenny falls for him. I could see that she’s curious about him; but on their very first date he shows his cards. He manipulates her into paying by suggesting that otherwise they should just walk out without paying. From that point on her character makes little sense. She ought to have some reason for staying with him; it’s hard to imagine that a very attractive woman like her would have much trouble finding a decent guy in L.A.
His restlessness is seemingly contagious. Neither of his ex-con buddies hesitates to throw-in with him, despite both having decent domestic lives. It might’ve been better had Max tried to blend in instead of dumping ordinary life at the first opportunity. Either that, or make his character more charismatic; he really hasn’t got much to recommend him.
I guess that’s the point, though. Straight Time works better as a sort of neo-noir in which the anti-hero protagonist is doomed from the start. The pacing really ramps up once Max decides to, or rather, gives in to his criminal impulses. The settings are so gritty that the color only adds garish details without conveying any warmth.
This is very watchable, even with the dissonance written into some of the characters’ roles. 8/10