Brubaker Reviews

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July 25, 2008
Reform warden uncovers rampant corruption in the Arkansas prison system. Redford at his best. Contains on of the best slow-claps in film history.
May 16, 2015
Think about the time period when the film Brubaker was made: the late 1970s. Released in 1980, Brubaker became the perfect coda film for Robert Redford's 1970s films a.k.a. "the era of intrigue". Fresh off a string of wildly diverse films, Redford returns to a film genre he knows and loves: expositions on crime, corruption, and reform; close Redfordian cousins of the era include The Candidate (1972, Michael Ritchie), Three Days of the Condor (1975, Sydney Pollack) and All the President's Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula). Brubaker (1980, Stuart Rosenberg) highlights prison abuse and Redford's "noble liberal" [respectively] character attempts to reform it. He is blocked by power drunk prison officials, willfully ignorant townspeople, and the classic corrupt (state) government. Viewers can tell Redford enjoys playing these parts as much as we enjoy watching him play them, he's very much at ease in this picture and that is a major compliment. Since "exposition pictures" tend to get preachy and over-the-top, Redford infuses badly needed pathos and at times physicality into his role as prison warden. Lastly, a final note on the filming and location: Redford and Rosenberg use a documentarian camera style which is light of art and angles; and instead focuses on the subject and the immediate interactive environment. Redford and Rosenberg do a fine job of substituting Ohio and Pennsylvania for eastern Arkansas. While its true Eastern Arkansas has had a checkered past (and what places haven't), Redford takes a few un-necessary jabs at the region and its culture. Either way, Brubaker does a satisfying job of holding viewer's attention for over two hours on a documentary subject, while allowing audiences the pleasure of viewing Redford in his element.
½ April 10, 2015
The movie was interesting till the big reveal then a wooden snooze fest.
December 31, 2014
In 1969 a mysterious man (Robert Redford) arrives at Wakefield State Prison in Arkansas. As an inmate, he immediately witnesses rampant abuse and corruption, including open and endemic sexual assault, torture, worm-ridden diseased food, insurance fraud and a doctor charging inmates for care. Brubaker eventually reveals himself - during a dramatic standoff involving a deranged prisoner who was being held in solitary confinement - to be the new prison warden to the amazement of both prisoners and officials alike. With ideals and vision, he attempts to reform the prison, with an eye towards prisoner rehabilitation and human rights. He recruits several long-time prisoners, including trustees Larry Lee Bullen (David Keith) and Richard "Dickie" Coombes (Yaphet Kotto), to assist him with the reform. Their combined efforts slowly improve the prison conditions, but his stance inflames several corrupt officials on the prison board who have profited from graft for decades. When Brubaker discovers multiple unmarked graves on prison property, he attempts to unravel the mystery leading to a political scandal...

"Brubaker" is based on the real-life efforts of former prison administrator Thomas O. Murton to reform Tucker and Cummins Prison Farms in Arkansas in 1967-68. Murton served as a technical advisor for the film. The warden impersonating a prisoner story element was fictionalized and was not derived from Thomas O. Murton's experiences. It has been suggested though that this plot device was inspired by Sing Sing Prison Warden Thomas Mott Osborne who in 1913 under an assumed name had had himself committed to New York State's Auburn State Penitentiary. This is one of two Robert Redford movies released in 1980 that were Oscar nominated. This film was an Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay whilst the other movie Ordinary People (1980) received six Oscar nominations. "Brubaker" was a critical and commercial success. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "...The movie (refuses) to permit its characters more human dimensions. We want to know these people better, but the screenplay throws up a wall; they act according to the ideological positions assigned to them in the screenplay, and that's that. ... Half of Redford's speeches could have come out of newspaper editorials, but we never find out much about him, What's his background? Was he ever married? Is this his first prison job? What's his relationship with the Jane Alexander character, who seems to have gotten him this job? (Alexander has one almost subliminal moment when she fans her neck and looks at Redford and, seems to be thinking unpolitical thoughts, but the movie hurries on.) Brubaker is a well-crafted film that does a harrowingly effective job of portraying the details of its prison, but then it populates it with positions rather than people." I have wanted to see "Brubaker" since 1980 as a fan of Robert Redford and now I finally bought a copy. However, I think that "Brubaker" is a bit too long, a bit too slow and a bit too talky to be honest. And I think that most characters are under developed, but the acting is truly solid and engaging. Nevertheless, in 2014 this becomes a bit like just another clichéd prison movie with a Messiah like figure with his own agenda and ways of change. In 1980 this was most likely different, but it´s not more than a 3 out of 5 in my point of view on the last day of 2014.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
August 10, 2014
Brubaker sounds like something someone would grunt out, or rather, what Robert Redford might grunt out in the shower. Redford might just be playing a warden undercover as an inmate, but he should watch his step, or else he'll end up over his head and down on his knees. "Cool Hand Luke II: Still Too Pretty for Prison"! Stuart Rosenberg had to go with the Sundance Kid, because he just couldn't wait around for Butch Cassidy forever, and now that both Rosenberg and Paul Newman have tragically passed, you shouldn't expect the crossover, "Brubaker and the Cool Hand Luke". Yeah, when you mix the titles of these two prison films together, the result does kind of sound like yet another Newman-Redford outlaw buddy film, so maybe Rosenberg really is hoping to get the attention of the "Butch and Sundance" crowd through these films. I don't know why exactly, because "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was dull enough when it was just one movie, and the outlaws were still at large, not stuck in prison. Well, don't worry, because this film is fairly compelling, although momentum is still shaken, partly because you can compare it a little too much to more than just "Cool Hand Luke" and, apparently, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".

The film isn't simply formulaic, but all-out clichéd, at least at times, in which storytelling falls too far into conventions as a prison drama whose familiarity could be easier to get past if the focuses of this character drama were more distinguished. The performances are convincing enough to help a great deal in selling you on the roles in this narrative, but even the performers' material is thinned down by thin characterization which does little to truly flesh out the depths of each major character. Maybe this film would have had more time to do some fleshing out for the leads if it didn't take some time to introduce ultimately inconsequential roles whose forced incorporation take away from the primary focus of this uneven plot, and add to a sense of excess. The film is a little too long, maybe even aimless in all of its dragging, despite doing a decent job of sustaining your attention that, even then, isn't particularly consistent. Actually, I don't know if the film is especially long, as much as it feels long, when backed by steady directorial pacing by Stuart Rosenberg whose cold spells range to dull from a certain blandness that is actually pretty prominent throughout the film, trying your patience time and again. Many ought to stand their ground against the coldness and be rewarded, and many others ought to be underwhelmed, if not worse, due to an overt thoughtfulness that fails to go justified by more unique, nuanced, even and tight storytelling. Still, the point is that, with patience, one ought to be decidedly rewarded, drawn to the subtle grace to and, for that matter, story concept behind the film.

Not much of anything is particularly fresh about this story, but potential still stands firm in this, in a way, unpredictable portrait on prison life, and how a new warden interprets it and works to better the system behind it, and yet, there's also something minimalist about this subject matter. Considering the flaws, this drama's minimalism could have driven the final product shy of rewarding, but the telling of the story ultimately proves to be strong much more than anything, even in a script by W. D. Richter that delivers on fair dialogue and memorable, subtly dynamic set pieces, whose believability helps in immersing you into this intimate drama. Richter does what he can to compensate for characterization thinness and an unevenness in the juggling of the many roles, but he started those problems, so he doesn't pay as much mind as he should towards mending them, thus, the characters have to be brought to life by the cast. At the same time, the thinness to characterization limits material, but when the performers are given something to do, just about all of them deliver, with the portrayers of the prisoners being particularly convincing and effective in their nuance. At least compared to his peers in the central cast, Robert Redford actually isn't particularly impressive, playing himself, but therefore delivering on plenty of charisma to help win you over, though still not quite as much as a certain offscreen performance. Director Stuart Rosenberg takes things steadily, but surely, and much too often, that blands things up, maybe even dulls things down, due to plot structure's being too questionable for all that much momentum to be sustained, but that sort of thoughtfulness, when realized, is solid in its impact, with a subtle tension and resonance that captures the edge of this drama. There is a lot of bite to this audacious and only slightly melodramatized portrait on harsh prison life, into which Rosenberg and his fellow storytellers immerse you enough to reward the patient.

In conclusion, conventions, as well as thinness and an uneven juggling of characterization join directorial cold spells in retarding the momentum of an already overlong affair, until the final product runs the risk of falling short of a reward value which is ultimately secured by the intriguing story concept, rich script, solid cast and thoughtful direction which make "Brubaker" an ultimately biting, maybe even immersively gripping prison drama.

3/5 - Good
½ July 6, 2014
Boring and ineffecive.
May 17, 2014
Since I work in corrections, I typically do not watch prison movies - why watch what I live? Being based on a true story, I figured I'd see what it was like before I entered the industry. This is well-written and decently acted. Difficult to believe how people treat other people and what authority turns a blind eye to. Holds your interest though I found the inmates actions unbelievable in many instances.
March 22, 2014
Redford delivers the performance of his career in this amazing prison drama based on the real life Arkansas Prison Scandal.
½ May 9, 2008
Amazing to think of Redford's career in decades, a child of my generation doesn't have frame of reference for too many of his cinematic offerings (perhaps Sneakers - but that's about it). Brubaker is a film I caught on late night TV through the 90s and would always invariably end up sitting through. It's not that you haven't seen it all before in various forms, the unlikely hero/unjustly prisoned/dodgy warden/prison welfare isn't exactly virgin ground, but it's great to see Redford in a strong role and a twinkle in his eye. Yaphet Kotto again puts in another fine supporting effort, a real unsung talent.
½ August 8, 2013
Not a bad exploration of one man's fight to try to fix the penal system. Henry Brubaker is assigned to a tough and worn prison (he finds out the atrocities first hand by sneaking in as a prisoner!) but is soon, yes, faced with political challenges and even from the prisoners themselves. It's an uphill battle, and while this is somewhat predictable, Redford is always interesting to watch.
August 5, 2013
Great acting role by Redford even if the script was abit lax, and Morgan Freeman....young.
½ June 10, 2013
Somewhere in That Prison Is a Very Young Nicolas Cage

I rather collect first film appearances. It's entertaining. I admit I missed Nicolas Cage in this; he's one of the prisoners, but I didn't see him. I did, however, see Morgan Freeman in his first credited film role, which is harder to miss. He was already forty-three, if you can believe it, and had been on TV for some nine years on [i]The Electric Company[/i]. It does not, I must say, exactly hurt my personal theory that he aged almost immediately and has been hovering about the same look ever since. I think I talked about this when I watched [i]The Pawnbroker[/i], too, but I quite like Morgan Freeman, so we're going over it again. His is a small but crucial role, that of the man who unknowingly leads to the big reveal. It could have been anyone in the part; this isn't a role that requires the patented Morgan Freeman Gravitas (TM). Still, I think he kind of prefers these roles now and again. They're more fun.

Henry Brubaker (Robert Redford) enters the Wakefield State Penitentiary as a prisoner. There aren't enough beds for the prisoners sent there. The only way to ensure that you'll get one is to pay a bribe to a trustee. There are more bed frames, but they are falling apart and don't have mattresses. There isn't enough food, and what food there is, is disgusting. Prisoners even have to pay to be treated by the doctor (Roy Poole). As Brubaker and the others are being brought in, a prisoner is put on their bus who was shot trying to escape. They never do find out what happened to him, but they never see him again. One day, Walter (Freeman) goes a bit crazy, and Brubaker reveals himself to be the warden, who has gone undercover to find out exactly what's going wrong at the prison. As warden, he wants to resolve the problems being had at the prison, but he quickly learns that people are not, in general, interested in improving conditions for prisoners.

This is based on true events. Including the discovery of bodies behind the prison and the fact that those higher up the chain of command weren't interested in improving conditions for the prisoners. Though the way Brubaker got to know the prison before making himself known is not part of the original story of Thomas O. Murton, the historical figure on whom Brubaker is based, it is speculated that it is instead based on a former warden of Sing Sing who had himself interred at a different New York State penitentiary to get a feel for conditions as a prisoner. Whether that's true or not, it at very least makes for a good story and gets the attention. It's also certainly true that the story of the prison is not a pleasant one. That field wasn't just where those who died of natural causes while prisoners were buried. The real-life prisoners eventually sued over conditions and got the prison closed because their treatment was unconstitutional.

The people in the area of the fictional Wakefield are not interested in having the conditions in the prison improved. Either they are getting something out of it or else they believe that the prisoners are getting exactly what they deserve. Now, Brubaker is very honest at the beginning; he believes that the vast majority of the prisoners under his command are guilty of the crimes they were convicted of, and he has no qualms about making them serve their sentences. He doesn't even have a problem with having the prisoners work, provided that they actually get the fruits of their own labours. Why should they eat canned chili while the beef they raise gets sold to local restaurants at discount prices? But of course, the owners of those local restaurants are quite happy with the deal they have. The local contractor put a shoddy roof on the bunkhouse, and when it collapsed, there was nothing anyone could do. The roof wasn't insured--though some nonexistent farm equipment was.

I'm considerably worried about the idea of all the positions of trust in the prison's being filled by prisoners. Don't get me wrong; I do believe that prisoners can be rehabilitated, and I do believe that there are plenty of positions in a prison that can be filled with prison labour. Heck, come to that, it wouldn't be bad to teach them some decent skills, which would help on the assumption that any of these people are ever getting out. But the head guard, "Dickie" Coombes (Yaphet Kotto), is a prisoner. Another person I recognized, Everett McGill in one of his first roles as Eddie Caldwell, also appears to be both a prisoner and a guard. The people on the towers are expressly stated to be prisoners, and the people guarding the work teams as they go out into the fields are guards. This does not strike me as a sensible way to run a prison, and I can't understand why anyone would allow it. Yes, various authority figures speak disdainfully of the idea of spending more money on prisons, but that's still just weird.
August 15, 2012
Not your average prison movie....
½ February 2, 2013
A quite interesting movie prison drama about the fight against the etsablished wrongful practices in prisons. Undoubtedly, very idealistic but maybe that's what a movie needs sometimes. Redford is good as the new inmate. I barely recognized the young(er) Morgan Freeman. It's not the movie you will watch multiple times but it's solid entertainment for the first viewing.
½ January 23, 2013
Could have been better, yet still a interesting movie about a guy who is unwilling to give in on corruption.
½ August 27, 2012
Very clever intro to Redford's character!
½ September 2, 2012
Great Job by Redford
July 23, 2012
Il ne manque qu'un fil rouge a BRUBAKER pour etre un film reellement passionnant. Cette petite chose l'empeche meme d'etre inoubliable, ce qui est dommage, tant l'interpretation (et la fin du film) sont parfaites. STUART ROSENBERG dirige sans genie un film qui ne manque pas sa cible, mais qui manque de cinema. Dommage.
½ July 11, 2010
96%

"You gotta stop digging...because you have been salaryed to run one of the best conceved prisons in the country, sir. Because although Wakefeild is admittedly an imperfect institution, much like America herself, she is none the lessa grand experiment. Goverment of the man, for the man, by the man.-Senator Charles Hite (John McMartin)
June 14, 2012
Gritty, Bleeding-heart prison drama!!
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