Wednesday, January 14, 2009

1/13/09: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Although I have seen bits and pieces of Midnight Cowboy since it was first broadcast on TV, I've never watched the entire unedited film from beginning to end. What I remember of it as an adolescent was very dark and confusing and not at all something I would ever fully enjoy. But this is Dustin Hoffman week, and since the movie has had untold accolades heaped upon it (including a Best Picture Oscar), it was way past time for me to take a closer look at it as an adult.

Seeing it in its proper linear fashion hasn't changed my mind about it being dark and confusing, but it is obviously much more cohesive as a film. The themes are loneliness and shattered dreams permeate this very visually intriguing picture. Both of the main characters have doomed aspirations: Joe Buck (Jon Voight) wants to make it as a gigolo in New York City, while Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) dreams of escaping his deteriorating health by way of Miami Beach. But they soothe their loneliness by forging a friendship together, two very different men unified by their dark pasts. I was a little annoyed and disturbed by the psychedelic freak-out party scenes, and the fractured flashbacks and dream sequences give only hints and clues about Joe's troubled history. Overall, Midnight Cowboy is a quite dour and pessimistic movie (everybody in New York is depicted as a lunatic or a pervert), but it's effective and surprisingly poignant. This was Dustin Hoffman's immediate follow-up to The Graduate, and it's immediately clear that the sheer breadth of his range is staggering. Talking in a Flatbush accent reminiscent of the earliest Bugs Bunny cartoons, Hoffman is truly mesmerizing as Ratso—filthy, unshaven and walking with a limp, it's as if he'd contracted tuberculosis just for this particular role. With Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes and John McGiver. Rating: 4/5.

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