Brubaker -- AMC Carrollton, Annandale, Avalon, K-B Crystal, Roth's Silver Spring East, Roth's Tysons.
Filmmakers ought to be granted time off for good intentions. Then, perhaps, those responsible for the prison film "Brubaker" could have gotten their do-good impulses under reasonable control, and used them to make a good picture, instead of a goody-goody one.
The potential is there, in the story of a warden who sets out to reform a prison in which bribery and brutality have been so widespread for so long that a kind of sociological ecology has developed around them, and to eliminate one part of it is to do dangerous things with the general balance. The film is a fictionalized version of the experiences of Thomas Murton, a prison superintendent who became a professor of criminal sciences at the University of Minnesota.
But when Robert Redford steps into the role, something peculiar happens. The character is not merely a reformer, or even a hero; he has become a saint. tAs with the recent spate of Jesus films, you can only wonder why the other characters resist worshiping him for as long as they do.
Not only does he look angelic, a blond in woodsmanlike clothes among all those grubby types in gray, but he has strange and rare talents. When dozens of men are digging for the bodies of prisoners murdered long ago, he alone, through some divine process, can go right to the spot.
He doesn't limit his reform to condemning beatings and bribery, but is constantly showing himself one of the boys, winning games, beating up bad guys, and so on. Surrounded by stick figures -- Jane Alexander and Yaphet Kotto don't have a chance with these parts -- he can't help looking perfect while they go about the dramatically hopeless task of saying that it's impossible to compromise and play politics, and that monkeying with established practices can be dangerous.
But in the end, this makes the warden's efforts meaningless -- not because, as in life, he failed to beat the system, but because, in this film, he fails to confront it.