Found On Netflix: Riot (1969)

By Eric Delgado

The mission is the same.  Okay Netflix, find us something awesome that we haven’t seen. 

Fortunately, ‘awesome’, covers a wide range.  It unearths ‘Riot’, a 1969 film that stars Gene Hackman and Jim Brown.

Jim Brown the running back?  Ha, Jim Brown, star of the Dirty Dozen!

‘Riot’ is a genre film all the way.  It centers on our two stars as they attempt to escape from a hellish prison run by sadistic guards.  There is no need to interpret your loyalties here, Riot does that for you quite neatly.  The heroes, they’re good.  Everyone else is bad. (Jim Brown) is particularly good.  He’s only doing five years (for ‘armed something’ or other) and doesn’t even want to escape.  Circumstances thrust him in the middle and then that’s that baby.   Big Red (Hackman, complete with red hair and the most you’ve ever seen on him) is the plan’s executor.  And what a crappy plan it is.  Its good times watching it unravel although it begs the question of, how much time did you really spend on this plan considering you’re in the, ‘all the time in world’ business?

When the escape plan goes awry, the idea of a riot comes into view.  This is current events 101.  They decide to ‘protest’ the terrible conditions, and using the guards they’ve subdued as hostages now, attempt to fabricate a long-winded negotiation for better conditions.  

It’s a good old management vs labor dispute, 

But all the while escape is underway!

This is a pretty nice production.  Jim Brown is surprisingly good, maybe the best performance he ever gave.  It’s obvious he’s giving it his all.  Perhaps being that one time in his career when he wasn’t expected to simply grunt and grimace, or take on ‘the man’ in explosive fashion is the reason.  Gene Hackman is vintage.  Super cool to see him just show off how the Gene Hackman thing is gonna work for the next 35 years.  The direction is not bad.  The production seems eager to step into some of the newer boundaries Hollywood was establishing at this time with films like ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Midnight Cowboy’. The violence is interesting at times, and consistently authentic.  Jim Brown’s ridiculous ‘walking around the prison compound’ theme is NOT well done, but if you like Bill Medley, there’ll be a lot to like.

Plain and simple, there’s some terrible gay stereotypes to deal with. So, not good.

Also plain and simple, zero racism.  Which was a nice bonus.

Stand alone, ‘Riot’ is ok. Throw in some 1969 renegade film-making, young Gene Hackman and Jim Brown’s best acting, and its better than ok.  And if some of it makes you cringe, thank Dennis Hopper for that, because it’s all his fault.


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