Picks and Pans Review: Brubaker

UPDATED 08/11/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/11/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

The story is based on a book by Thomas Murton (PEOPLE, July 21, 1980), a penologist who tried to reform Arkansas' Cummins Prison Farm in 1967 and was fired by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. Only Murton is now called Brubaker, the locale is Ohio and the obviously well-meant film seems preposterous. The script is full of farfetched happenings like Robert Redford as the warden playing polo with his inmates, and the characters are mostly one-dimensional. The state prison board is full of venal rednecks; the prisoners are depicted as just a bunch of good guys being exploited. Redford is given too many lines like "I don't see playing politics with the truth." And director Stuart Rosenberg (he did Cool Hand Luke and The Amityville Horror) is not entirely successful with his cast. Yaphet Kotto is, as usual, powerful as a trusty. Matt Clark, David Keith and the late Richard Ward are effective as convicts. But Jane Alexander, as a governor's aide, is ludicrous. At times she drawls, at others she sounds suspiciously like Eleanor Roosevelt. Such distractions obscure the film's message, and prison reform is hard enough to sell. The classic I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang eloquently stated the case 48 years ago. The mere existence of Brubaker indicates how much good it did. (R)

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