Throwing together nostalgic romance and bullet-spraying action, "The Bandit" has already broken all Turkish B.O. records with its 1,750,000 admissions and is still in release. It isn't hard to understand what local auds see in this well-told, quasi-mythic tale about an old mountain outlaw who comes to Istanbul to search for his long-lost love. Pic spans an enjoyable, if sometimes slow, two hours and could have limited commercial crossover appeal as a piece of exotica, or maybe play at an offbeat midnight fest screening. Leaving prison after 35 years, Baran the Bandit (Sener Sen) discovers his village is underwater, flooded by a dam. He sets out for Istanbul, on the trail of Mahmud (Kamuran Usluer), his best friend, who ratted on him and stole Keje (Sermin Sen), the woman he loved. Befriended by young urban punk Kumali (Ugur Yucel), who sees the bandit as a sweet, doddering hillbilly, Baran lodges in a run-down hotel. He eventually finds Mahmud, who has married Keje and become the richest man in the country. In a separate story, he wreaks vengeance for Kumali after the boy falls afoul of the Turkish Mafia.
Packed with cliches and impossible coincidences, pic merrily stays one step ahead of reality. Sener Sen gives the aging bandit a mythical dimension, but a warm smile and wise heart keep him human and even laughable at times. More’s the surprise when Baran turns into the Charles Bronson of Istanbul in a gun-happy finale, showing the city upstarts what being a murderous outlaw is all about. Yucel, who looks like a Turkish Andy Garcia, injects endearing human qualities into the posturing, none-too-bright gangster Kumali. Both he and Sen are major box office stars locally.
Film was written and directed by veteran Yavuz Turgul, an ad exec who has found time to make five features, including the 1986 “Muhsin Bey.” This latest has a Hollywood-style clarity and focus on emotions that makes it easy to follow, though the story’s pace is indulgently slow by U.S. standards. Offshore viewers will enjoy the film’s colorful atmosphere and feeling for the sleazier sections of old Istanbul. Erkan Ogur’s throbbing soundtrack climaxes in a teary farewell scene that sends audiences home satisfied.