Director: Martin Brest
Screenplay: George Gallo
Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano
Running Time: 126 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
The majority of films I review are first time watches or at least films that I haven’t seen for a while. This is largely due to the fact that I mainly just review screeners and don’t often take discs offered that I already own. However, when a Midnight Run press release reached me recently I went against the grain, reviewing something I own and saw (for the first time) only a few months ago. I decided to go with it partly because the original DVD release was terribly presented (see the bottom of the page), but also because I really enjoyed the film and couldn’t resist an excuse to watch it again.
Midnight Run is not quite a ‘cult classic’ in the Rocky Horror sense of the phrase. It’s more of an under-appreciated gem that picked up some strong reviews on its release and made a bit of money, but wasn’t really the hit it was expected to be (it came out on the same day as Die Hard which didn’t help) and kind of disappeared from people’s radars over the years. It has picked up a bit of a following though so the fine people over at Second Sight deemed it worthy of a brand spanking new Blu-Ray release.
The film stars Robert De Niro as bounty hunter Jack Walsh, who is hired by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) to track down and bring in former Mafia accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin), who has embezzled $15 million from notorious mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). Jack finds The Duke straight away, but the journey back to prison isn’t so simple because Serrano’s goons are hot on their heels as well as the FBI and another bounty hunter, Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) who wants in on the action. The unlikely central pair clash during the long journey across the country, but a friendship slowly develops despite their differences and the obvious elephant in the room of Jack’s job and The Duke’s crime.
As I said in the opening paragraph, I really enjoyed Midnight Run. From the era and ‘buddy comedy’ guise, I originally expected to enjoy it for its non-stop over the top action or silly gags, but this film really shines through the interactions between its characters and the performances.
The cast is a veritable who’s who of top notch character actors. On top of the obvious talents of De Niro (in his first true comic role), you get the hugely underrated Grodin and the ever reliable skills of Joe Pantoliano (or Joey Pants as he’s often known), Dennis Farina, John Ashton, Yaphet Kotto and even Philip Baker Hall pops up in a small role. Everyone is on top of their game too and deliver hugely memorable performances. With so many characters to juggle, the film does an excellent job of making it clear who these people are without filling us in with backstories or exposition and without resorting to unimaginative stereotypes.
The interplay between De Niro and Grodin in particular is great to see and is aided by a sharp script by George Gallo. The swear-heavy dialogue is endlessly quotable (“here come two words for you: Shut the fuck up”) and the plot is a fun escalation of chaos without getting messily complicated or over the top. In general, although it’s fairly convoluted and contains one or two ridiculous moments, the film feels pretty plausible. The comedy never feels forced or goofy either, it comes from the situations as well as the endless put-downs and banter between the characters. There aren’t any pratfalls or cheap gags pushed in your face.
My only minor complaints about the comedy would be a few bits of mugging from Grodin during the action scenes. This is a tiny nitpick though as there aren’t loads of action scenes where he does this and we’re talking 2 second shots here and there. My only real problem with the film as a whole is it is a little too long though. Over two hours is a bit much for this type of film in my opinion. Saying that, I wouldn’t say I was bored, but there was a point about half way through when I thought it was getting ready to tie itself up before I realised there was another hour left. The film is fun enough to keep you watching, but I think it could have benefited from a trim here and there.
Director Martin Brest generally handles things brilliantly though. It’s a road movie and character piece more than the action comedy it’s occasionally marketed as and Brest never lets any set pieces or gags get in the way of the journey made by the leads, physically or emotionally. In fact the film has a lot of heart. In amongst all the swearing and insults, the central relationship between Jack and The Duke is nicely drawn and a scene with Jack, his ex-wife and daughter is genuinely touching.
Brest’s career sharply nosedived in more recent years and he hasn’t directed anything since 2003. He found fame directing Beverley Hills Cop, then Midnight Run cemented his reputation, Scent of a Woman brought him an Oscar nomination, but then he stumbled with Meet Joe Black and completely ended his career with the much maligned bomb Gigli. He disappeared completely after that, which is a terrible shame as he probably wasn’t to blame for the abomination that was Gigli and Midnight Run in particular shows that he was (and presumably still is) a huge talent. He’s still very much alive though and hopefully a renewed interest in something like Midnight Run will bring him out of retirement and onto some decent projects.
Midnight Run is out now in the UK on Blu-Ray, released by Second Sight. I have the original UK DVD release of the film which was an absolute travesty (letterboxed, not anamorphic widescreen for starters), so it wouldn’t take much to improve on that, but Second Sight have pulled out all the stops to deliver the film in immaculate condition.
For special features you get lengthy new interviews with Charles Grodin, Joe Pantoliano, John Ashton and George Gallo as well as an old audio interview with Yaphet Kotto and the original ‘Making Midnight Run’ promo. The interviews get better as they go along (from the order given), with Grodin rambling a bit but Gallo full of interesting facts about the production and fond memories. It’s understandable that they didn’t manage to get hold of De Niro for an interview, but it’s a shame they didn’t speak to Brest as his story is interesting in general. The promo is standard stuff, but a nice addition.