BRUBAKER strays from the traditional structure because of its offbeat First Act. It lacks an Inciting Incident, nor does it have any significant protagonist characterisation. We witness from Robert Redford’s character’s POV how the most appalling injustice and brutality is inflicted relentlessly upon his fellow inmates.
Over thirty minutes into the movie, Redford’s character identifies himself suddenly as the new warden and announces in the same scene he wants to force through some serious reform.
Finally we have a 1st Act Turning Point.
But why was the warden’s identity hidden from the audience all along? Apart from a sudden surprise, it doesn’t add a thing. The use of dramatic irony (i.e.: the audience knows, but the other characters don’t) would have been much more powerful and it would have allowed for the badly needed character development.
Roger Ebert wrote:
“There’s no room for the spontaneity of real human personalities caught in real situations. That’s especially annoying with the character of Brubaker himself, played well but within a frustratingly narrow range by Robert Redford.”
Redford’s performance is rock solid given the material. BRUBAKER’s real problem is its flawed structure: half an hour into the movie, we have run out of screentime to sufficiently set up the protagonist’s character and potential internal conflicts. Redford didn’t have anything to work with, which makes Ebert’s comment rather unfair.
What the screenwriters did achieve quite well though, is the setup of antagonists and external obstacles in the way of the protagonist’s objective. Perhaps this explains why the film did work for me.