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Midnight Cowboy

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Midnight Cowboy

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight
Director: John Schlesinger
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: January 1969
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes, Ruth White, Jennifer Salt, Bob Balaban

Review by Brian Koller
3½ stars out of 4

"Midnight Cowboy" is an excellent film that demonstrates the gap between ambitions and reality, and gives a flavor of what New York City (and rural Texas) was like in the late 1960s. "Midnight Cowboy" was also a landmark film in its explicit treatment of sexual behavior, especially homosexuality, which initially earned an 'X' rating. (The rating was later rescinded after the Oscars had awarded it "Best Picture".)

Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a young Texan who decides to leave his dishwashing job and move to New York City. He is naively certain that he can make a good living as a "hustler", meaning a prostitute with older women as customers.

Upon reaching New York, he is soon hustled himself. Slow to realize the difference between reality and his fantasies, he becomes impoverished and a male prostitute. He moves into a condemned apartment already occupied by small-time con and cripple Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) who has dreams of his own: living as an important man in Florida.

The director, John Schlesinger, makes frequent use of brief, long-ago flashbacks of Buck's childhood, and pairs these flashbacks to relevent events in the present. We learn that Buck was raised by his grandmother, who had multiple boyfriends and who neglected and possibly sexually abused him. There are also fantasy scenes paired with their real-world result. For example, Voight approaches a would-be customer, and there is a fantasy scene of him escorting her to a posh suite. The reality scene has her making a quick exit, leaving Voight standing in the street with a stupid look on his face. These flashback/fantasy scenes are even better than the rest of the film, and it is a wonder that more films do not make use of them. Certainly Schlesinger was deserving of his 'Best Director' Academy Award.

Dustin Hoffman is endearing in the role of Rizzo. Hoffman can be very likable in secondary roles (as in "Papillon"), where his character can show more eccentricities.

Voight was a late casting, after the role had been offered to Michael Sarrazin and even Elvis Presley. The Joe Buck character is perhaps too naive and stupid, but Voight is very credible as a yokel.

Copyright 1999 Brian Koller

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