Film Review: Midnight Cowboy – 7.5/10

‘I’m walking here!’

MIDNIGHT COWBOY, Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, 1969

Midnight Cowboy is a difficult film to classify and that’s perhaps why it has endured. The 1970 Best Picture winner has funny moments but isn’t really a comedy. It’s too goofy to be taken seriously as a gritty drama. It does feel like an authentic snapshot of New York at the tail end of the 1960s and it also features two show-stopping performances from Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. Neither actor is concerned with whether the audience likes their respective characters. Indeed, Hoffman has probably never been less likeable since…

Joe Buck (Voight) is a naive hick from Texas who is swallowed up by the big city and taken under the wing of streetwise hustler Ratso (Hoffman). Buck is certain he can make his fortune as a gigolo but the harsh reality of NYC is very different to Buck’s fantasies.

British director John Schlesinger announced himself to the world with 1963’s Kitchen Sink comedy-drama Billy Liar and in many ways, the freewheelin’ style of that film forms the genesis for Midnight Cowboy. Buck is a spiritual cousin of the eponymous Billy Liar and both films take risks in terms of both content and filming style. It’s easy to see why the Academy were so enamoured with Midnight Cowboy. This is a film with a European sensibility that is still quintessentially American and this uneasy combination would go on to inspire the next decade of American cinema (along with that other iconic 1969 release Easy Rider).

There is no doubt that Midnight Cowboy is an important film but I’m not sure if it’s an enjoyable one in 2024. The characters are compelling and real but ultimately empty. Why should I care what happens to Ratso and Buck? Schlesinger never really answers that question convincingly.

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