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Retro Review: Midnight Run

midnight run [Source WCBE]

Recently it was announced that Midnight Run will be getting a sequel with Regina Hall (The Hate U Give) set to star. Robert De Niro will produce the film and Aeysha Carr will write the script. In honour of this news, let’s go back to the 80s and review the original action cult classic.

Synopsis

Former police officer turned bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is offered $100,000 to retrieve mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) when he skips bail. Unfortunately, rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton), FBI agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto), and mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), and his cronies are also after Jonathan. With his deadline being midnight in five days can Walsh get Jonathan from New York to Los Angeles in time to claim his reward? And can they make it there alive?

What Did I Like?

This film’s writing is its biggest strength. George Gallo’s script contains many brilliant comedic and dramatic moments. Like when Jack reveals why he quit the police force or when he and Jonathan steal money from a bar by pretending to be FBI agents. The main thing that makes everything work though is the interesting, distinct characters at the story’s centre. Everyone here feels unique because of their motivations, personal histories, and the way they speak. Which makes the narrative feel more alive than your typical action-comedy.

This is further helped by great performances. Unsurprisingly Robert De Niro is outstanding as Jack. De Niro makes him feel like a character who really knows the rough side of life. Charles Grodin is also compelling as the quiet accountant who slowly becomes more daring. But it’s Midnight Run’s supporting cast that truly shines. Actors like Joe Pantoliano, John Ashton, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Foronjy, and Robert Miranda all get big laugh-out-loud moments. However, the standout is Dennis Farina whose every malicious line as Jimmy Serrano is solid gold.

Lastly, the production has a lot to appreciate. Danny Elfman’s atmospheric and exciting score is incredibly underrated. With the main theme being a quintessential 1980s action backing track. And the directing really enhances the action. Whether that be through the fantastic incorporation of the actors with practical effects. The camera’s placement alongside the performers during stunts. Or things as simple as lingering on the character’s reaction to pain. It all gives the action more weight and increases the suspense by investing the audience in our lead’s safety.

What Did I Not Like?

The movie doesn’t start out strong. We are introduced to Jack by watching him transport Monroe Bouchet (John Toles-Bey) to prison where the police are incredibly hostile towards him. It feels quite meanspirited. Considering other criminals are depicted more humanely Monroe’s treatment seems out of place. It’s definitely not the best way to introduce the main character. The film’s beginning is also largely quite boring. With the characters initially feeling like tired archetypes reciting exposition (though they later become more vibrant). Which also makes much of the early comedy falter.

Furthermore, while the movie is generally funny not all the jokes land. This is because some of the jokes just consist of characters swearing or shouting rather than using comedic timing or build-up to create humour. 

Additionally, some plot elements feel lazy or unnecessary. This is particularly true regarding the inclusion of Jack’s estranged family. The mentioning of Jack’s family illustrates how far away he is from his previous life. But their physical inclusion only acts as a cheap way to elicit further audience sympathy. And the duo being forced off the plane because of Jonathan’s panic attack seems hugely contrived. Especially considering how Jack routinely knocks people out. It feels like a very forced progression of events. Which can take some out of the experience.

Verdict

Although its opening has several issues, some parts feel unneeded or lazy and not all the comedy hits its mark, Midnight Run is still thoroughly enjoyable. This is thanks to its mostly great writing, which gives every character a distinct personality and has some inspired moments of both comedy and drama, the fantastic performances, particularly by the supporting players, an underrated soundtrack, and well-directed action. It’s definitely a run worth taking.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Also Read: The Best Action Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

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Posted by
Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.