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Ulu Grosbard
Dustin Hoffman, Theresa Russell, Gary Busey
Writing Credits:
Alvin Sargent, Edward Bunker, Jeffrey Boam

Max Dembo struggles to adjust to life after prison.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 114 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 9/21/2021

• Audio Commentary with Ulu Grosbard and Actor Dustin Hoffman
• Trailer


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Straight Time [Blu-Ray] (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 27, 2021)

After three prior nominations, 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer finally scored Dustin Hoffman his first Oscar. A year earlier, he worked as the lead in 1978’s Straight Time, though the Academy didn’t accord him a nomination for his performance.

After six years in prison, Max Dembo (Hoffman) earns release. This means he needs to answer to parole officer Earl Frank (M. Emmet Walsh) as he attempts to adapt to the free world.

Max doesn’t acclimate to life on the outside easily. This leads to a mix of confrontations and problems that eventually send him back to his old ways.

I admit I’ve long found it tough to warm up to Hoffman as an actor, mainly because he rarely seems “organic”. By that I mean it feels like you can sense the acting – Hoffman comes across as someone who can overthink roles and fail to really inhabit them.

I don’t mean that to sound as insulting as it does, and I do generally like Hoffman’s work. At least he largely avoided the degeneration into self-parody that damaged peers Al Pacino and Robert De Niro as the years passed.

As Max, Hoffman offers an understated performance that works fine. He doesn’t play up the character’s potential melodrama and he keeps things honest.

Unfortunately, the screenplay lets down Hoffman and the rest of the excellent cast. In addition to Hoffman and Walsh, we find a tremendous roster of “future notables”, as the movie includes Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton and Kathy Bates.

With so many strong actors, I expect something more involving than the spotty, superficial Time. The story seems episodic and not particularly compelling.

Time adapts a novel by Edward Bunker, a real-life ex-con best-known as “Mr. Blue” in Reservoir Dogs. Given Bunker’s experiences, I would expect more insight into the mind of the habitual criminal, but Max remains a fairly vague, generic character.

Rather than really explore Max’s psyche, the film just feels like a conglomeration of semi-random scenes with little purpose. Oh, the narrative does progress as Max gets deeper and deeper into violent crime, but not much about it comes across as compelling or meaningful.

It doesn’t help that director Ulu Grosbard depicts all the action and drama in a mundane manner. Time rarely finds a way to milk the story’s natural tension and meaning, so we wind up stuck with a mix of not especially compelling scenes that don’t tie together particularly well.

I do like Time as a way to see so many famous actors early in their careers. However, the film itself never gets into a satisfying groove.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Straight Time appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I felt pleased with the transfer.

Sharpness was usually fine. Though most of the movie displayed strong delineation, a few wider shots tended to be a bit soft. Those weren’t a big concern, though, and the majority of the film provided nice clarity.

I noticed no issues with jaggies or moiré effects, and edge enhancement also failed to mar the presentation. With natural grain, I didn’t sense any overuse of digital noise reduction, and source flaws remained absent.

Colors worked well. The movie opted for a palette that somewhat emphasized greens and blues, though not to an extreme. These looked positive, with nice vivacity within production choices.

Blacks were fairly tight, and shadows were fine. Low-light shots seemed largely clear and visible. Overall, this became an appealing image.

I also felt the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Time worked moderately well for its age, though some issues arose. Speech dominated the film and could pretty natural. However, the lines occasionally became edgier than I’d expect.

Music seemed pretty peppy and full, so the score turned into the best aspect of the track. Effects played a small role and showed decent accuracy, though some distortion came along for the ride at times. Nothing here excelled, but this became a suitable track for a movie from 1978.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get an audio commentary from director Ulu Grosbard and actor Dustin Hoffman. Both sat separately for this running look at the source and its adaptation, cast and performances, sets and locations, research and realism, photography and related topics.

My prior experiences with Hoffman’s commentaries seemed erratic, so I didn’t expect much from him here. Happily, the actor provides tons of fine insights about aspects of the production as well as his work on the film.

Grosbard speaks less but contributes useful notes as well. All of this adds up to a solid look at the movie.

With a cast of actors who would later become famous, Straight Time offers some appeal. I wish the story itself felt more bracing and compelling, though. The Blu-ray provides solid visuals as well as decent audio and an informative audio commentary. While not a bad film, Time disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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