Straight Time is a most unlikeable film because Dustin Hoffman, starring as a paroled and longtime criminal, cannot overcome the essentially distasteful and increasingly unsympathetic elements in the character. Ulu Grosbard’s sluggish direction doesn’t help.
Apparent plot peg [from Edward Banker’s novel No Beast so Fierce] is that a parolee suffers so many indignities that a return to crime is easier.
Viewers are asked initially to believe that M. Emmet Walsh, the assigned parole officer, is a sadistic person who delights in hassling his charges. But given the circumstances, he does not emerge as a heavy. Indeed, Hoffman’s too-easy lapse into his old ways absolves any blame on The System. Hoffman’s character would have defied the parole supervision of a saint.
Theresa Russell is very good as Hoffman’s girl; Harry Dean Stanton is excellent as a reformed hood who (nobody explains why) is being suffocated in the life of a successful suburban businessman; Gary Busey is good as a weak ex-con who bungles a climactic robbery plan.