One of 1978’s grievously neglected titles (others include Blue Collar and Who’ll Stop the Rain), director Ulu Grosbard’s film about a paroled con’s doomed efforts to go straight is a humane yet gritty look at the ambitions of petty hoods. Dustin Hoffman (who started directing the film before turning the reins over to Grosbard) is the squinting, mustachioed Max Dembo, a professional burglar fated to hook up with lowlifes Gary Busey and Harry Dean Stanton. (The movie also features early career turns by Theresa Russell, Kathy Bates and a 7-year-old Jake Busey.) Hoffman plays the role with a cunning restraint matched by David Shire’s melancholy score. The story, based on ex–bank robber Edward Bunker’s novel, No Beast So Fierce, jerks from placid revelries to explosions of energy (“violence” is too morally subjective a word here); the climactic Beverly Hills jewel heist is one of the best scenes of the genre. More than this, though, Straight Time (which is yet to be released on DVD) offers a back-alley ride through a between-the-riots Los Angeles of country music, backyard barbecues and smoggy illusions. (New Beverly Cinema; Sun.-Tues., July 23-25)
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