Brubaker Blu-ray Review

There are probably enough “prison movies” that have been made throughout the history of cinema to warrant (that’s right, pun intended) its own specific genre.  However, once you eliminate all the B-grade plots that serve no other purpose than to perpetuate gratuitous violence or simply place attractive women in close quarters, you’re probably only left with a top-10 or less list of actual quality filmmaking.  Fortunately for Robert Redford, the two well-known prison themed features he’s been a part of are definitely somewhere in that exclusive list.


Most film buffs and especially Redford fans are very familiar with 2001’s THE LAST CASTLE, where Redford as a court-martialed hero takes on a corrupt warden of a military prison.  But the familiarity with Redford’s inaugural and Oscar nominated prison film BRUBAKER (1980), is most likely far more diminutive.  Based on the true story of Thomas Murton, the character Henry Brubaker (Redford) is a warden of a small prison farm in Arkansas.  In an attempt to expose and eliminate the corruption of its inner workings, Brubaker poses as an inmate in his own prison.  Even though in reality Thomas Murton never actually posed as an inmate, much of what’s in the film is straight out of Murton’s book about his time spent as warden.


Due to the mostly unsung title and the seldom playback on cable TV, fans of Redford who were still in diapers when BRUBAKER hit theaters will cherish it as a long lost treasure.  It’s the “Sundance Kid” in his prime and at the top of his powers.  Perhaps more than any other part of the film, the beginning in which Brubaker has little to no dialogue and just observes the mistreatment of prisoners is a virtual sizzle reel for exactly why Redford is so revered amongst his peers.  With one of the most illustrative faces in the industry, he’s able to convey a gamut of thought provoking scenarios without giving away his true emotional status.


Among the supporting cast there are some very recognizable character actors that many viewers will reference from their internal Rolodex of “Isn’t that the guy from …,” however there is one that kind of stands out, not only for his equal status to Redford in the Hollywood hierarchy but for the other “prison” movie he would be involved with 14 years later.  A young Morgan Freeman plays Walter, an inmate in the prison whose persona might be paralleled to what “Red” might have been like in his early days at “Shawshank.”


When viewed, BRUBAKER should be allotted a certain amount of leeway coming fresh off the 1970’s style of movie making.  Some of the dialogue and character interaction will definitely inspire some flashbacks of cop TV dramas from the era, and even though the film is triumphed by Tom Murton’s own family, the fact that the real-life “Brubaker” never actually posed as a prisoner places the maximum stretch on the phrase “based on a true story.”  What should not be ignored though is the integral facet of this film’s secondary message.  Human rights is, has and always will be a fixture in both reality and storytelling, and it’s definitely the main focus of BRUBAKER’s plot, nevertheless the statement on the dangers of capitalistic ventures taking over the place of government was not only way ahead of its time, it’s something that has moved near the forefront of current-day politics.


Video:  1.85:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: This film has been updated to HD quality in the exact way it should be.  The colors and black levels have been brought up to today’s standards, but they did not go too far to strip the film of all its grain, which would destroy the grittiness and overall tone of the film.

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: Unlike video, audio can never be too clean.  The sound effects and dialogue are crisp and immersive and are an obvious upgrade from films of that era even if you’ve never heard the original mix.

The only reason this disc doesn’t get a higher rating is the complete lack of any commentary or featurettes.


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