Brubaker is a grim and depressing drama about prison outrages - a movie that should, given its absolutely realistic vision, have kept us involved from beginning to end. That it doesn't is the result, I think, of a deliberate but unwise decision to focus on the issues involved in the story, instead of on the characters.
A very tough movie, Brubaker is not for the squeamish. Director Stuart Rosenberg, whose spotty career includes credits ranging from Move to The Amityville Horror, moved into a higher strata with this one, but no matter who's directing him, one can't escape the feeling that Redford is the man behind the man behind the camera.
Filmmakers ought to be granted time off for good intentions. Then, perhaps, those responsible for the prison film Brubaker could have gotten their do-good impulses under reasonable control, and used them to make a good picture, instead of a goody-goody one.
Brubaker is an earnest, right-minded, consistently unsurprising movie about a penologist named Brubaker (Robert Redford), who sets out to reform a single corrupt prison and finds himself bucking an entire system, including the state administration that appointed him to his job. It says a lot about a movie that the only mildly interesting characters in it are those who are corrupt, such as the insurance-selling member of the prison board, played by Murray Hamilton, and a smarmy building contractor, played by M. Emmet Walsh, who attempts to buy Brubaker's neighborly good feelings with a homemade chocolate cake.
By its attribution of every evil to simple human greed, the melodrama remains hamfisted; while Rosenberg's direction signals 'realism' with crude denim-blue tints in every image. After two hours and ten minutes one is left only with a numbing awareness of Redford's charmless charm, the macho image unable (unlike Eastwood or Reynolds) to even contemplate self-irony.