John Hurt received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Max in Midnight Express.
John Hurt portrays a fellow inmate of the prison who befriends Billy, and has been in the prison for quite some time. Hurt really is not given a great deal of time to establish or develop Max as the film really is not interested in him. Hurt there must do it all pretty much in stride in the limited amount of screen time he is given. Hurt from his first scene establishes Max's clear weariness, and a sort of insanity that has developed within Max from his time in the prison.
There is almost an otherworldly quality to Hurt's performance at times in his portrayal of Max that suggests well the way Max has been drifting from his treatment and time in prison. Hurt though doesn't overplay this idea and does still realize Hurt into an honest human being in his situation. He shows the history of Max in the prison with his portrayal of Max's exasperation as well as his quiet intelligence and knowledge Max has of the prison which Hurt effortlessly conveys.
When I said his role was limited though I really should have said he was very limited. He is mostly reactionary and barely makes any lasting effect on the story as written. He is mostly just there as part of the prison atmosphere more or less. There are a few scenes where he is more at the very beginning of his performance, and at the end of it. Near the end of his performance Hurt again we can't help but feel for his character as he makes the pain of Max real.
The only problem is between his beginning and final scenes where he can develop his character more he really is just a part of the environment. Not that this is a problem with Hurt's performance he is as good as anyone could be in the role its just the film cares very little about his character. I most certainly did like seeing Hurt, I almost always like seeing John Hurt in films. I only wish he was given more time as I frankly found the creation of Max Hurt made far more fascinating than the exploits of the "true" story at the center of the film.