Paroled criminal Max Dembo (Dustin Hoffman) is compelled to withstand the calculated cruelties of slimy parole officer Earl Frank (M. Emmet Walsh). The more Max tries to go straight, the more he is defeated by circumstance or hectored by the sadistic Frank. It becomes clear after a while that neither Max nor his fellow ex-cons will be able to survive looking for legitimate work. Max is too "far gone" as a human being to succeed at anything other than crime. He goes back to his old thieving ways, inveigling reformed crook Jerry Schue (Harry Dean Stanton) into helping him. A climactic "big caper" goes tragically awry, thanks in great part to the tragic flaws in Max's personality. Based on a novel by Edward Bunker, Straight Time
is possibly the most realistic cinematic probe into the sociopathic psyche of the career criminal. Famed theatrical director and instructor Ulu Grosbard directed, with an uncredited assist from star Hoffman; it was their second film together, after Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?