Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Midnight Cowboy ★★★★

    "You know what you can do with them dishes. And if you ain't man enough to do it for yourself, I'd be happy to oblige. I really would." These are the words of Joe Buck expressed in his opening monologue of the 1969 film entitled "Midnight Cowboy." Joe is the central character of this poignant drama that is based off the novel of the same name written by James Leo Herlihy.

    The introduction to the title character in this film is one of the best I have ever seen. We first meet Joe Buck, as he prepares himself to leave a small Texas town, in route to the big city that is New York. He plans to quit his job as a local dishwasher, as his true ambition is to become a male prostitute. He dresses in "cowboy" attire and heads out the door of his motel room with nothing but a cow-skinned suitcase and a small handheld radio. After a long bus ride, filled with vivid imagery from Joe's past, he finally arrives in the Big Apple and begins his dream as a male escort. However, after being hustled by his first client, Joe finds himself alone and desperate. He meets a crippled, street savvy, and small-time hustler named Enrico Salvatore Rizzo, who is nicknamed "Ratso." Ratso also cashes in on Joe's naivety after he refers Joe to a well known "pimp" to manage his services. Ultimately, Joe is kicked out of his hotel room (due to insufficient income), and after fatefully bumping into Ratso once again, this pair of pariah are forced to become friends, and partners, in the hustling underworld.

    The performances in "Midnight Cowboy" are simply timeless. Joe Buck is played by the very talented Jon Voight, whose role in this picture kick-started his career; I truly believe that Voight was born to play this role. Voight genuinely succeeds in this portrayal of a young, brash and naive Texas boy, who dreams of wealth and women. He has utterly no idea how he is going to capture this dream and surely has not thought things through. He is charismatic, charming and knows that "lovin" is all he's ever really been good at. Although Joe Buck is the central character, this film would not have been the same without the supporting role of Dustin Hoffman as Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo. Hoffman is equally brilliant in this heartfelt role of a small-time hustler. After initially viewing Joe as a small time score, Ratso begins to develop feelings of empathy for this young man and invites him to stay at his condemned apartment shack. They become friends not because they want to, but because they have to. They never had anyone to rely on. They are brought together by the overpowering feeling of loneliness. After displaying an unforgettable role in the 1967 film "The Graduate," Hoffman shows his range as an actor with this gem of a performance. His, "I'm walking here!", monologue will always be remembered as one of the most cherished, and brilliantly improvised, lines in the history of cinema.

    I will have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Roger Ebert and his opinion of this film. Most notably, his notion that the series of flashbacks scattered throughout the movie are a weakness to the film itself. He questions the psychology behind Joe's past and the connection with his character presently in the film. Personally, I feel the flashbacks are integral to the character of Joe Buck and that the early flashbacks display a certain sense of nostalgic beauty, especially the first instance featuring "crazy" Annie and Joe. We need a reason to believe why Joe is leaving this small town behind, and they paint it almost too vividly.
    "Midnight Cowboy" is a provocative and daring film that speaks volumes through its magnificent performances and the superb direction of John Schlesinger. The 1969 Academy Award winner for Best Picture is a film that, when viewed, will linger in your soul for years to come. You have to admire a character who has the ability to drop everything they have ever known and chase their dream, as silly as it may be. Too often in life, we "settle" in a job or situation, simply because it is comforting and routine. It takes extraordinary amounts of courage to do what Joe Buck set out to accomplish. Unfortunately for Joe, I don't believe he is that courageous. He is young, and his innocence blinds him to the fact that what he is undertaking will be exceptionally difficult.

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