Gary Oldman’s bravura performance as a victimized patient in a Deep South prison hospital for the criminally insane, circa 1950s, fails to cure the film of its manifold structural and stylistic ills. The tale allegedly is based on a true story of one Chris Calhoun, who could not handle the ‘expectations’ of others when he returned from the Korean War to the Deep South as a ‘certified hero’.
In an opening setup that’s frenetically bizarre, Oldman goes berserk one morning, shooting up his small tropical town with a handgun. He is promptly packed off to Chattahoochee, a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane.
The ‘hospital’ is sort of a cross between the Turkish prison barracks of Midnight Express, the hard-time joint in Brubaker and the good ole’ prison farm of Cool Hand Luke. Similarities to those three excellent movies end there.
Thoughtless medical bureaucrat Ned Beatty turns aside all complaints of maltreatment. Oldman’s bunkmates are maniacs, blithering idiots and worldly wise weirdos like Dennis Hopper and M. Emmet Walsh.
Oldman becomes a jailhouse lawyer, discovers the rule of habeas corpus, and with the help of his steadfast sister (Pamela Reed), eventually gets the governor to investigate.