Judged by its story, pace, production, exotic locales, and realistic acting, Brokedown Palace is every bit as good as 1978's drug-smuggling saga Midnight Express, coming closest to the earlier feature in content and tone. So why is it that Midnight Express is considered a cautionary classic, while Palace barely made ten million at the box office in an age when many movies make that in the first weekend? Because Palace, with its palpable paranoia and stomach-churning inevitability, is not an easy movie to watch. Neither was Express, but audiences have changed in the last two decades; they want their movies already chewed and digested by the time they pay $9.50 to see them, and director Jonathan Kaplan will have none of that. The characters, played with touching naïveté by Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale, find themselves in a nightmare from which they cannot wake up, and the viewer is dragged into their life-changing gloom with them. It's impossible not to relate to the women, as everything they do is completely rationalized and understandable. The injustice of the consequences of their painfully prolonged adventure is difficult to bear -- in a word, it hurts. Once word got out that the film was the deeply disturbing story of two young women confined to a Third World jail, ticket-buyers vanished, giving grist to the argument that audiences don't want to experience anything more significant than rollercoaster-safe visceral thrills and the occasional light romance. Brokedown Palace offers that rarest of cinematic experiences: viewers actually feel something.