Dustin Hoffman is notorious for his preparation for a role. For Straight Time, he spent considerable amounts of time with real life felons trying to get everything he could out of them. It shows in this flick from 1978 by Ulu Grosbard (Georgia). Hoffman originally was even going to direct the film, but found himself overwhelmed by the pressure and called in a friend.
Straight Time is based on a novel by Eddy Bunker who was a real life professional thief. Bunker even makes an appearance here as an fellow member of the underworld. Hoffman plays Max Dembo who is more or less based on Bunker's experiences. The start of the film finds Dembo getting out on probation only to find his parole officer (M. Emmet Walsh) seems a litte too hard on him. After Dembo's friend (Gary Busey) shoots up at his casa, Walsh's character finds the evidence of it and sends Max back to the tank to be drug tested. Dembo is cleared, but totally loses it and is sucked back into previous life.
While out on parole, Max meets a knock-out named Jenny (Theresa Russell) at the temp office who tries to help him. They begin some sort of relationship whilst Max promises to keep his dark side out... but you know that can't happen. Dembo gets back with his old running mate played by Harry Dean Stanton and you know this isn't going to end well.
Great casting amongst the leads and the incredible attention to the nuances of the criminal life makes it all feel entirely real. You get a sense of what it is really like for a con to get out and go straight. It doesn't glamourize the life one bit. Stanton's character seems set up for life with a good job and a wife, but he misses the thrill of the robbery and is pulled back in.
Straight Time is a terrific film that would be an excellent watch alongside Michael Mann's Thief. It would be an interesting back to back to see one film made with criminals and another that was made in the Hollywood view of what they think criminals are and how they live. It is quite the contrast in styles.
You should also check out an informative commentary track on the dvd with Hoffman and Grosbard... some fascinating tidbits about the making of the film.