BRUBAKER (director: Stuart Rosenberg; screenwriters: W.D. Richter/story by W.D. Richter and Arthur Ross; cinematographer: Bruno Nuytthem; editor: Robert Brown; music: Lalo Schifrin; cast: Robert Redford (Brubaker), Yaphet Kotto (Dickie Coombes), Jane Alexander (Lillian), Murray Hamilton (Deach, Governor), David Keith (Larry Lee Bullen ), Morgan Freeman (Walter), M. Emmet Walsh (C. P. Woodward), Albert Salmi (Rory Poke), Richard Ward (Abraham), Linda Hayne (Carol), Matt Clark (Purcell), John Van Ness (Zaranska), Tim McIntire (Huey Rauch); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Ron Silverman; 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment; 1980)

"It was hard to sit through two hours of such brutality and misery and say you enjoyed it."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Stuart Rosenberg ("Cool Hand Luke"/"The Amityville Horror"/"Pocket Money") directs this dreary fact-based prison pic about a reform-minded warden. It's based on a story by W.D. Richter and Arthur Ross, and is written by W.D. Richter. Brubaker is based on the experiences of Thomas O. Murton. He was fired as the superintendent of the Arkansas State Penitentiary in 1968 after his reforms didn't sit well with the embarrassed Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. Murton discovered at the Tucker and Cummins Prison Farm the unmarked graves of three prisoners, two of whom were said to have been butchered by a former prison official.

It was hard to sit through two hours of such brutality and misery and say you enjoyed it, especially since the production was so hamfisted.

Brubaker (Robert Redford) is the new warden at the notorious corrupt small Wakefield Prison Farm in Arkansas (the only prison in America that made a profit), and in order to expose the poor prison conditions he poses as a new convict. The warden discovers that the prison is run by the long-term trustees (convicts) and everyone is on the take, from the barbers who dictate what kind of haircut you get by how much the convict pays them to the venal prison officials who work out deals with the townspeople to lease out the prisoners as slaves. All the human evils from greed to brutality (including murders and rapes) are exposed in a much too melodramatic way, that brings a tainted crudeness to its depiction of reality.

In the course of his disguise as a prisoner, Brubaker defuses a tense situation with a crazed prisoner (Morgan Freeman) from solitary confinement in death-row, and will eventually reveal himself as the new warden sent by the governor (Murray Hamilton) to uncover the prison corruption. At this point, all the air is sucked out of the film and nothing much that happens from hereon is that surprising or doesn't come with a heavy-handed message. Brubaker is helped in reforming the prison by the prison's chief trustee, acting as an inmate guard (Yaphet Kotto), and a compassionate ally, the governor's aide Lillian (Jane Alexander), but meets resistance from the conservative prison board and powerful business interests and eventually from the governor.

The original director Bob Rafelson was replaced by Rosenberg, who keeps the earnest pic grim and predictable and one-dimensional in its characterizations. Its main theme is how to work at reform if it won't go through channels without compromise, as the zealous Brubaker wants to go all the way in getting things right but his reform partner Lillian, the one who got him this gig, splits with him and wants to work things out through political compromise.

REVIEWED ON 3/16/2010       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"