Integrity Oozes from every frame of this fact-based film about human suffering, but it bored me breathless. The star is Britisher Gary Oldman – riveting in the right role (Sid and Nancy) and gratingly intense when weak material forces him to push (Criminal Law). He pushes like hell here. Oldman plays Emmett Foley, a Korean War vet who shoots up the small Florida town in which he’s always been a model citizen. Foley wants the cops to kill him so his wife, the splendid Frances McDormand, can get the insurance. Instead, Foley is sent to the state mental hospital at Chattahoochee. There he spends most of the Fifties enduring the dirt, vermin, beatings, sexual aberrations, shock treatment and other atrocities that we’ve seen in movies from The Snake Pit to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The story may be true, but first-time feature director Mick Jackson stages it like a B movie, polishing the plentiful clichés in James Hicks’s screenplay as if they were freshly minted. All the usual suspects show up: the randy bunkmate (Dennis Hopper), the incompetent doctor (Ned Beatty), the sadistic attendant (Gary Bullock). Pamela Reed has a few affecting scenes as Foley’s loyal sister. But Jackson’s prime concern is myth building. No opportunity for Christ symbolism is missed when Foley, in a full beard, suffers tortures while he labors to learn the law, win his release and work for hospital reform. By substituting pretense for simplicity, Jackson has made Chattahoochee hard to watch and harder to swallow.