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Midnight Run 1988 ****

It’s increasingly hard to find good films as opposed to original content on Netflix, while Amazon Prime seems to be pulling in a back catalogue of big films at an urgent rate. Occasionally, something like Breakdown drops, just to be the exception to the rule; a good film, easy to recommend and watch, underrated at the time of release. Martin Brest’s light thriller Midnight Run fits the same bill; not a hit in the day, but well worth exhuming, catching a number of major talents at a key stage in their career.

This is, as the credits say, A Martin Brest Film, between his game-changing comedy-thriller Beverly Hills Cop and Oscar-winner Scent of a Woman. This one bridges the gap with the action, salty dialogue and gritty characterisations of the former, and the earnest, men-learning-how-to-live-from-other-inspirational-men tropes of the latter. Brest was a huge talent, but his later work (Meet Joe Black) became overlong, and there’s a little of that bloat in the 126 mins here.

Robert DeNiro is pretty lively as Jack Walsh, a skilled but flawed bounty hunter. But the big draw is Charles Grodin, one of the most notably under-used stars, who wrote the script for and starred in the excellent comedy-thriller 11 Harrowhouse back in 1974. He underplays the renegade accountant Jonathan Mardukas that Walsh hopes to deliver from New York to California; the scene in which he pretends to be an FBI man to shake down some twenty dollar bills from a pub of uncomprehending rednecks is wonderfully droll. The two work well together, but Grodin wipes DeNiro off the screen in moments like this. And Brest being an actor’s director, there’s an assortment of great support, Yaphet Kotto, the thinking man’s Idi Amin, Dennis Farina, the late Jack Kehoe, Joe Pantoliano, Phillip Baker Hall; they knew how to fill out a cast in those days.

This was, and still is, a very enjoyable film, but now seems like a transitory work for all concerned; DeNiro went into comedy big time, and hasn’t done much else in 20 years other than self-parody. Stoked on hubris, Brest went serious and came a cropper with Gigli and Joe Black, Grodin went into light entertainment with doggy flick Beethoven and arguably never fully fulfilled his obvious leading man promise. But although Brest doesn’t seem to care enough for the action elements here, (the desert car chase and the bus-station shooting are fairly rote), his grasp of character and dialogue are absolutely spot on. Midnight Run may not be headed to the Smithsonian as an example of culturally important cinema, but it’s well worth a lockdown afternoon for those who feel that modern cinema is off the boil.


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  1. Just re-watched this for some good cheer. I’ve always liked this movie and I think both Grodin and DeNiro are brilliant here. Also fun to see a young Joe Pantoliano pre-Matrix and Sopranos.

    • Yup, Midnight Run is another Grodin film that didn’t hit big, but stands up so well today, and yes, early Joe P in this movie too! Phillip Baker Hall too…

  2. I thought the dynamic was really interesting in this one. I think more typically the manic one would be the annoying fugitive and the bounty hunter would be a stoic action hero. Instead, Grodin is kind of the straight man and the main comedic drive.

    • Agreed. Grodin’s character is remarkably cool, and it’s the experienced pro (DeNiro) who acts manically. I guess they wanted a different feel, and they got it.

  3. Man, I love this film. It’s easy in my top ten. I want to watch it again now and then eat some chorizo and eggs, with hashbrowns, obviously.

  4. Lonely Guy is a good shout too. Midnight Run has flaws, but it’s vintage 80’s action and one of the best showcases for Grodin, check it out if you get a chance!

  5. I saw a lot of movies in the ’80s but I don’t even remember hearing about this one. I guess I must have known about it at the time but I’m sure I haven’t seen it. It’s amazing how much just drops off the radar.

    I agree with what you say about Grodin being underused. He was great in a lot of supporting roles, like Catch-22 and Rosemary’s Baby but I think the one I liked best was his turn in The Lonely Guy.

  6. I also just noticed that I can now like comments. And “reply”, except I can’t. Is that reply for the admin only, or a work in progress?

  7. I’ve noticed that you have a big green “like” button on the site itself. It is obviously different than the wordpress “like” button, which I only see in my feed, not on your site. Do you still get notified if the WP “like” button gets pushed or only the big green one?

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