I first saw MIDNIGHT COWBOY (MGM/UA, R) at the age of 10, when my parents took the family on one of our regular drive-in-theater outings (it’s just this sort of outrageous permissiveness that spawns future film critics). Though my prepubescent eyes didn’t always know what to make of the film’s grungy, godless Manhattan-a sleazoid vipers’ nest of religious freaks, horny divorcees, laughing Warholian hipsters, and seedy hangers-on like Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo-the existential melancholy of Harry Nilsson singing ”Everybody’s Talkin”’ over the opening credits was indelible. As Jon Voight’s guileless Joe Buck struts through a sunbaked Texas nowheresville, lost in his cockeyed fantasy of becoming a New York City hustler, it’s indeed easy to believe that ”everybody’s talkin’ at” him, but that he ”can’t hear a word they’re sayin’.” Even as a kid, I could see that Midnight Cowboy’s true subject isn’t decadence but loneliness. The first big studio movie to get an X rating (though it was later reduced to an R), John Schlesinger’s Hollywood groundbreaker is being rereleased, in a vibrant new print, 25 years after its premiere. I’m pleased to report that the two lead performances have lost none of their magic. Greasy and unshaven, coughing up words in a fractured Bronx mumble, Hoffman-seven years before De Niro in Taxi Driver-grabbed Brando’s torch to burn away the last bits of glitter from modern screen acting. His weaselly, hobbling Ratso is the original American icon of homeless despair. It’s Voight, however, as the preening faux-cowboy stud reduced to turning $20 gay tricks, whose tenderhearted vulnerability helps make Hoffman’s triumph possible. Midnight Cowboy’s peep-show vision of Manhattan lowlife may no longer be shocking, but what is shocking, in 1994, is to see a major studio film linger this lovingly on characters who have nothing to offer the audience but their own lost souls. A- -OG
Genre: Drama; Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Bob Balaban, Elliott Gould, Sylvia Miles, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Vaccaro; Director: John Schlesinger; Author: Waldo Salt; Runtime (in minutes): 113; MPAA Rating: X; Distributor: United Artists (MGM)
Posted March 4 1994 — 12:00 AM EST
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