Midnight Run * * * * 1/2

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Director: Martin Brest.
Screenplay: George Gallo.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano, Wendy Phillips, Richard Foronjy, Robert Miranda, Jack Kehoe, Tom McCleister, Lois Smith, Tracey Walter, Philip Baker Hall.

Many films have tried (and failed) to combine the genres of action and comedy. They were particularly popular in the 80’s with the most successful being Walter Hill’s “48 Hrs” and Michael Ritchie’s “Fletch” and four years before this film, director Martin Brest had already delivered one the decades best in “Beverly Hills Cop“. With the studios churning them out to this day, this still stands as one of the finest of it’s kind.

In order to collect his $100,000 fee, bounty hunter (Robert DeNiro) must find and return bail jumper and former Mafia accountant (Charles Grodin) from New York to Los Angeles. What he doesn’t bargain for though, is that the F.B.I., the Mafia and another rival bounty hunter (John Ashton) are also on the trail. As problems arise on the trip back, a strange bond and friendship develop between the disparate duo.

How many films can you honestly say deliver on all fronts? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many. This, however, is definitely one of them. It has exciting action set-pieces; perfectly tuned comedy moments; it has pathos; character development from an unlikely pairing of actors and throughout it all, maintains a level of danger. Is there really anymore you can ask for?
Working from a marvellous script by George Gallo, director Martin Brest has the perfect balance on this one. He captures all the aforementioned qualities just right and shows a level of skill in his handling of the material. What makes this film work so well though, is the chemistry from it’s leads; two complete opposites but still entirely believable. Robert DeNiro is an actor that has never been taken lightly and has, rightly, received acclimations aplenty throughout his illustrious career. However, on occasion, some of his performances are slightly overlooked or maybe overshadowed by his more meatier, well known, roles like Travis Bickle, Vito Corleone or Jake LaMotta, when in fact he has several little gems that slip under the radar. This is one of them. His portrayal of bounty hunter Jack Walsh is absolutely superb, delivering an intimidating presence in his trademark style but also a friendly, lightness of touch which add layers and depth to his character. Playing the fool to DeNiro’s straight man is a wonderfully endearing but highly irritating Charles Grodin as embezzling accountant Jonathan Mardukas. His character is obsessive, intelligent and gentle of heart and they both play their roles to absolute, comic-gold, perfection. Very rarely do you get such a dissimilar pair that are so believable and work together as well as this. It’s down to these two fitting performances that the blend of comedy and action is so seamless. They’re not alone though, the rest of the cast are also given substantial supporting roles, particularly a portentous Dennis Farina as gangster Jimmy Serrano and an unscrupulous Joe Pantoliano as bail-bondsman Eddie Moscone. It’s a film that affords the time to a host of great characters and performers.
Danny Elfman’s excellent and dynamic score also helps in developing and maintaining a particular mood and style, keeping the exciting cross-country adventure from ever getting stale.
It’s an old formula that plays like a cross between John Hughes’ 1987 comedy “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and Stanley Kramer’s 1958 jail-break classic “The Defiant Ones” but it’s injected with such a poignancy and freshness that make it very hard not to be swept away with it.

I wouldn’t really say that this is a film that’s underrated as any that have seen it, tend to speak highly. It is, however, often forgotten about and has claim to be one of the most enjoyable film’s of the 80’s.

Mark Walker

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33 Responses to “Midnight Run * * * * 1/2”

  1. Nice post dude. I loved this film. Not sold yet on the upcoming sequel though, with an ageing De Niro chasing down Grodin’s son, but this is one of Bobby’s best pieces of work so always hopeful when he gets a good script (and not just money to be in a piece of crap like New Years Eve)

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    • Cheers man. It’s a little gem of film. I grew up watching this. I loved it then and still do. I know they brought out a couple of sequels after this with Christopher McDonald in DeNiro’s role but I wasnt aware of Bobby reprising the role. I think he’s probably a bit old for it now but you never know. It would be nice for him to start getting back in the game again.

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  2. This is a great movie. One of my personal favorites.

    The chemistry between Deniro and Grodin is fantastic. Fantastic!

    You kind of hinted around at this being one of DeNiro’s better performances… I’ll just come right out and say it. Jack Walsh is one of his best jobs ever. That scene where they go to visit his ex wife, and he runs into his daughter is one of his best scenes ever. He’s awesome in this movie.

    Great choice. I love this flick.

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    • Glad to see you’re onboard with this one Fogs. I love it also. DeNiro gets a real chance to convey all sorts of emotions (the scene you mention being a prime example of one) and he takes that chance and runs with it. Fantastic indeed.

      I would like to see it appear in your MTESS feature. It deserves it.

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  3. not seen this one for a while, i was fairly young when i first saw it so a revisit is on the cards I think

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  4. I do like a good action comedy, I should check this one out.

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  5. This one really took me by surprise because even though I knew it was going to be funny, I never thought that it would actually end up touching me like it did either. Grodin and De Niro have perfect chemistry and you can only wish that De Niro had better performances like this today, but I guess we can always remember and love what he does here with Jack Walsh. Great flick and great review Mark.

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    • Thanks Dan. I totally agree. This film has it all and it’s one of DeNiro’s most underrated performances. We all know he has range and ability but with this character he gets a chance to show it all at once.

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  6. I love 48 HRS. and LETHAL WEAPON and a crapload of other buddy action movies, but this is the absolute pinnacle of the genre. I consider this one of the few films that is close to filmmaking perfection. Everything about it just clicks. The performances, which include an amazing cast, the soundtrack, the pacing, the humor, the filming and cinematography, the screenplay and the efficient, taut direction. It’s a smart action movie that has no pretensions about it.

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    • I couldn’t agree more Bruce. Everything does just click. I have yet to see a more seamless blend of genres. This film has a little bit of it all. DeNiro and Grodin are a great pairing. If only they made these type of movies now.

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  7. Great post. Funny that you mention “Planes, trains and automobiles”; that one came to mind while reading your review. I love some DeNiro (he is always perfect) but I don’t know about Charles Grodin. I think I’ve only seen him in the Beethoven films and he’s kinda irritating, although it seems to fit his character here, I guess.

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    • That’s exactly it Fernando. Grodin is highly irritating but it’s perfectly played. Put him next to the masterclass of DeNiro and it’s nothing but pure entertainment. It’s one if the best unlikely pairings I’ve ever seen. A fantastic movie.

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  8. Oh my, I would love to watch this again. It has been way too long, thanks for the reminder Mark

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    • Haha. That’s exactly my point Scott. I mention it my write-up. People seem to love this movie but somehow forget about it. I have no idea why, but if I remind just one person to revisit it again, my work here is done. ;-)

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  9. This movie is a lot of fun. I’m glad you liked it.

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  10. Even I had forgotten about this film and I used to own the VHS! Great stuff, Mark

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  11. I really love this movie. So consistently funny and entertaining. Definitely one I’ve seen a few times and am proud to own.

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    • Same here Tyler. I was in my element when it came on TV a few nights ago. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and it was as good as I remember it. It’s one of my favourite DeNiro performances as well.

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  12. This one is already on my need-to-watch-one-day list. I’ve heard it mentioned so many times. Your write-up is another vouch for it, who knows, it might become the tipping point. Now just to find it somewhere…. I’ll check with my library.

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    • This is a must Jessica. It was a real highlight from the 80’s and one of DeNiro’s most underrated performances. For pure enjoyment, you can’t find much better than this. I love it.

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  13. This film is one of the greats.
    Good point on solid cast too. Excellent writeup.

    ” Let me ask you somethin’.
    Those sunglasses. Are those government-issued or do all you guys go to the same store to get them?” Walsh (DeNiro), Midnight Run

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  14. I love this film! Every time one of L.A.’s revival theaters screens it, if at all possible, I’m there. De Niro and Grodin turned out to be one of the great pairings on film. Great look at this one, Mark. Well done.

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    • Thanks again Michael. I adore this also. You’re spot on, Grodin and DeNiro are probably the finest mid-matched pair I’ve ever seen together. Strong statement I know, but that’s how much I love this film.

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