Midnight Run – 30 Years Of An Unappreciated Masterpiece Chris Faers July 20, 2018 Editor's Choice, Features 1843 Sometimes in life it just clicks: the stars align, quirks of fate occur, everything comes together and out of it all you’re left with a film that simply works. Towards the beginning of the summer ‘88 season, two such movies were released within the rough space of a week: Die Hard and Midnight Run. While the former has quite rightly gone onto achieve universal love and adulation, the latter has become one of those movies on the fringe of outright success – adored by small number who see it, but by definition, obtaining cult status at best. Ironically, prior to their release, the producers of Die Hard considered moving its release date to avoid clashing with Midnight Run, which was predicted to be the big hit with cinemagoers – considering Die Hard was initially met with mixed reviews prior to release while Midnight Run was unanimously adored by critics. Not to mention, stating the obvious here, that this was pre-Die Hard success Bruce Willis. It was peak-of-his-powers Robert De Niro vs. that private eye guy from TV’s Moonlighting. Deservedly, there’s been plenty of fanfare for Die Hard’s 30th anniversary, initially released 12th July 1988, but it will be interesting to see just how much will be given to Midnight Run – first released exactly 30 years ago today. I hope and pray there are plenty of people out there celebrating across the web, but whether they do or not, deep down I know there’s a genuine appreciation for Midnight Run amongst cinephiles. However, from personal experience, it’s often a film I end up pushing on people who have never even heard of it – let alone seen it. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, a down-on-his-luck ex-Chicago cop who gets by as a bounty hunter working for Los Angles bail bondsman, Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano). Having previously posted bond on embezzler mob accountant, Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin), who has since skipped bail, Moscone promises Walsh $100,000 if he can track The Duke down and return him to prison within five days before his bond payment defaults and he’s out of business. Walsh tracks The Duke down in New York, and what should be a simple enough task – a midnight run – turns into long, arduous chase across America as they try to avoid the FBI who want him as a mob witness, the mob who want to stop The Duke from talking, and fellow bounty hunter, Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton), who Moscone has sneakily hired on the side for less money. Simplistically, Midnight Run’s a road trip movie – protagonist needs to get from A to B, but ends up having to take detours via C to Z. Despite categorising it as one, I’ve never really classed road trip as a genre: Rain Man, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Thelma & Louise, etc. are all much more than that and calling films such is largely comes down to simple categorisation – something which is hard to do with Midnight Run. While it does work effectively on that level, it’s brimming with comedy, action, drama, adventure and more, working hard throughout to earn every emotional pay-off – especially that ending where you cannot help but smile. While everything throughout is truly excellent, it’s the dialogue and chemistry of the cast that pushes it over the top into five-star territory – especially the relationship between De Niro and Grodin. Direct comparisons are often made with Planes, Trains and Automobiles – the John Hughes classic released less than a year prior – and at face value it’s easy to see why: two men who do not get along trying to get from A to B while everything imaginable gets in their way, a sharp script filled with snappy dialogue, humour and those sweeter moments, and can thank the chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy for making a good film a great one. But as wonderful as Martin and Candy are on screen together, De Niro and Grodin’s love/hate relationship is an absolute pleasure to witness. So good in fact, I would confidently throw their names into the hat against any on-screen pairing you can mention. It’s simply a lot fun watching and listening to them bounce off each other: be it The Duke nagging away at Jack for all his bad habits or those quieter, personal, intimate moments in the still of night over a camp fire. Despite their differences, they do share a moral code and they’re both playing the straight guy throughout – they just have different personalities that allow each other react in often-hilarious ways. Neither plays for laughs, which is genuinely uncommon in a film with so many laughs. De Niro gets many of the quotable, snappy one-liners, but he’s the emotional one of the two, snapping back at any of his unwilling co-passenger’s remarks with a sharp, vicious tongue. But Grodin is more than De Niro’s equal and is the star of the show. The Duke is somewhat a Felix Ungar-ish character, just maybe if Jack Lemmon had played Felix completely straight in The Odd Couple instead? But, like Walsh, you really grow to like The Duke and you have these conflicting emotions that will leave you hoping both characters succeed, despite their opposing goals. Both characters have their flaws; they both ooze such charisma you almost want to literally join them on their adventure through hell. You’ll often hear various industry types say the most important aspect of filmmaking is the script. While that’s probably true to an extent, it’s also about getting the right people to do it justice. George Gallo’s razor-sharp script could have easily become a run-of-the-mill action flick in the wrong hands. After all, when the project was initially at Paramount, producers wanted Cher to play The Duke. Luckily for us, director Martin Brest was a perfect choice to take the helm, although not only for rejecting the idea of Cher, but having demonstrated a similar pitch, tone and balance between action and comedy back in 1984 on Beverly Hills Cop. Brest manages to recapture that balance the pace perfectly. What seems to be a somewhat frantic film that’s always on the move actually has many of those aforementioned quieter moments, which not only allow us a breather, but lets you get to know and understand characters you will undoubtedly grow to love without resorting to John Hughes/Spielberg levels of oversentimentality. John Ashton’s portrayal as Marvin, the naïve, gullible but ultimately loveable bounty hunter is a career best performance from the underutilised actor. The rest of the supporting job do great jobs doing what they do best: Dennis Farina as the ruthless, direct mob boss, Jimmy Serrano, Yaphet Kotto’s intimidating F.B.I. agent, Alonzo Mosely, and Joe Pantoliano at his slimy as Moscone. For a film I will dig out at least twice a year, it always manages to excite, get those genuine belly-laughs and remain fresh, leaving you not only satisfied, but with a spring in your step. I sincerely hope I’m just unfortunate to know a lot of people who are yet to discover Midnight Run. But if it’s as feared and Midnight Run’s 30th birthday is a non-event for yourself, as it’s the weekend, get hold of a copy for tonight/tomorrow, order a takeaway and have a blast! Or as Jack Walsh would likely put it himself: here come two words for you – check out this masterpiece.