As Max Dembo, a small-time burglar trying and failing to go straight after his release from prison, Dustin Hoffman finally gave the unquestionably great performance everyone had been expecting from him. Unfortunately, few people saw it (and he hasn’t equalled it since).Drawn from the 1973 novel No Beast So Fierce by co-scripter and ex-con Edward Bunker (who later turned up in Reservoir Dogs as Mr. Blue), the movie is about imprisonment as an identity — a way of life. Unable to function on the outside, unable to keep from stealing again, Max is behind bars even when he isn’t.
Hoffman doesn’t give a star performance; he does the kind of work you see from the really stunning character actors you know are never going to be stars because they’re willing to look like assholes. Which is what Hoffman, more than in any other role he’s played, does here. He’s tight, no-nonsense, and completely believable.Add support from Theresa Russell, M. Emmet Walsh, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, and a young Kathy Bates, and what we have here, clearly, is a must-see.