Winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Original Screenplay, Midnight Express is an incredible journey into the dark underside of Turkish society as it tries to hold together against the onslaught of fundamentalism. Billy Joel stars as Ali Baba, a boy from a poor family who becomes a well-known singer and performer in Turkey. However, when he attempts to flee to Europe, his attempts are quickly curbed. Instead, he is incarcerated in a maximum-security prison camp, there to await the end of his sentence.
But, with the unanticipated birth of his son Yusef, the prison becomes a more brutal place, as his wife, Reza (Hamidia Ghanem), attempts to force him to go back to their home. Reza’s husband, Bilal (Voters) is an ever-present thorn in Ali Baba’s side, who is ready to do anything to help his wife and son. When midnight express delivers Billy to prison, his escape is cut off when guards discover the hiding place of a weapons cache, containing not one but three hammers and a pistol! With the volatile matter of the imprisoned Turkish president looming over Billy’s head, the tense relationship between the American and Turkish officials rapidly deteriorates, causing Billy to contemplate running for president against incumbent Turkish president Turgut Ozcan.
Although the film portrays the dramatic events of Billy Joel’s imprisonment, we cannot forget his remarkable contribution to the Turkish national culture. After his release, he formed the country’s only rap band, the Fugees. Though Turkey has not yet produced a blockbuster movie worth seeing, Midnight Express offers enough entertainment to make any movie fans say “this is the best film they’ve ever seen.” Although it may have started out as a comedy, the sheer wit and sharp analysis of Turkish politics are what makes Midnight Express a film worth seeing through to its end. After all, even Turkish politics could be funny if it was not so ridiculous.
The story centers on Billy Joel’s search for the Turkish prison where his friend escaped from. However, what the movie does not show is how Billy Joel actually escaped the prison in the first place. As you would expect, we are introduced to some of the principals that will help Billy escape, including a Turkish prison officer known as Baska (Ossie Davis), a former friend of Billy’s who knows where Billy is being held. Though Baska may seem cold, he has a personal reason for wanting to rescue Billy: his brother, Mosquito (Turkish prison inmate Mustafa Aksoy), whom Billy had tried to save many times before. After a brief scuffle with Baska’s men, Billy escapes by hiding in the trunk of a car, which happens to be the vehicle that Baska is using to transport Billy and his friend Zvetin (Besar Antollin).
Once out of the prison, Billy and Zvetin meet up with their mutual friend Mustafa again, who has become suspicious of Baska’s intentions. Baska, however, proves to be a believer of Billy’s innocence after he rescues Billy from a burning car on the side of the road. In order to clear up any misunderstandings between them, Baska lets Billy know that he is free to go as he please, though he warns him not to use the motorcycle he is driving. Though Mustafa initially thinks that Billy and Zvetin are simply going to ride out in a truck together, Billy insists that they need to get away from Mustafa and use an old truck they bought from a friend of his.
When they arrive at a warehouse in Turkey that is the former place of the prison where Billy Joel performed his prison break, they discover that there were two more escape attempts, this time by heavily armed terrorists. Fortunately, the Turkish guards nearby shoot and kill them before they can make a threat against the American soil. Still nervous about being kept in the dark, Baska and Mustafa are convinced to return to America. Before leaving, Mustafa gives Baska a ride to show how well he speaks Turkish.
With the help of Murt and Mirela, the prison inmates who helped Baska escape, Billy and Zvetin eventually make it to America. While passing through a series of underground tunnels, they are captured by the Turkish guards and taken to another room where they meet a Turk who identifies himself as Abdul al- Turk. Al- Turk wants Billy and Zvetin to work for him in his new prison, but they refuse, stating they are free to go wherever they wish. Turk threatens to kill Billy unless he allows them to leave through the tunnels, but both escapes through a hole in the ground and flee into the night.
This film offers an early look at what M.A.S.H. was like on the whole, especially since the characters speak English in the beginning, even though most of the movie takes place in Turkey. Though not entirely true to the original vision of the Turkish prison, the film does successfully convey the atmosphere and history of the country. For many Americans, seeing how this country came to be is fascinating, though some may feel that watching Baska and Mustafa escape into the midnight express is overstretching. Regardless of how Americans feel about the Turkish story, it is still a great portrayal of world history and is a must see for all movie fans.