Criminality, Obsessive Compulstion, and Aesthetic Rage in 'Straight Time'
Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 25, Nos. 3 & 4, p. 441, 2001
7 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2001
When I first saw “Straight Time” I was working as a law clerk in the Prisoner’s Rights Office of the Public Defender in Vermont. I was immediately struck by the movie. All of the characters, the situations, and the details in the film had familiarity for me then. I tried to understand why the movie had such a deep resonance. Perhaps it was just because of my work at that time, interviewing prisoners while attending law school ad struggling to become a lawyer. I was fascinated by the movie, compelled by the starkness and edge of the characters, images, and story. Although I was working and attending law school in the northeast and the movie was set in Los Angeles, it reminded me of the stories of so many of our clients, striving for recognition and respect in a world devoid of narrative possibilities, a world where they were type-case as pariahs, a world in which they would probably, at best, be released and confined to boring and menial day-jobs and a marginal, struggling, banal existence. Like the criminals in “Straight Time,” it seemed to me that the one thing that many of our clients were proficient at, or at least were passionate about, was criminality. Criminality was their calling and their fate and their career. It struck me that the most disturbing and yet compelling aspect of the film was how the characters, especially Max Dembo (Dustin Hoffman), unapologetically embraced their fate, just as many of the prisoners did.
Keywords: Public Defender, Movie, Character, Narrative, Criminal, Prisoner
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation