Image Entertainment // 1988 // 125 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // September 17th, 1999
This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Midnight Run is a buddy picture combined with a road picture, with some action and some comedy thrown in to keep things moving along, and with Robert De Niro added to the mix, what else could you want? Besides even minimal extra content, I mean.
While I always knew of Robert De Niro's stature as an actor, it was not until I began to collect DVDs that I began to truly appreciate his acting talents, in such classic films as the Vegas mob flick Casino, the stylish Euro-action flick Ronin, or the mob comedy Analyze This. So, based on the strength of these titles, I decided to buy Midnight Run, having never seen the movie before now. It was not until I looked at the disc in the local independent store I use that I realized what a potential gem this movie could be. In addition to the eminent Mr. De Niro, you have an array of talented though perhaps underappreciated actors, including Yaphet Kotto (Alien, Live and Let Die, and a stunning turn as Lt. Giardello on the acclaimed TV show Homicide: Life on the Street), John Ashton (a favorite ever since Beverly Hills Cop), Dennis Farina (as good a mobster here as he was a hard-boiled cop in the TV series "Crime Story"), and the always delightful Joe Pantoliano (The Fugitive, Bound). And if that were not enough, Midnight Run is directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop) and scored by the excellent Danny Elfman.
So, how good is this flick? Read on!
Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) has a rough life as a bounty hunter, as he has the unenviable task of recapturing all sorts of disgruntled criminals who've run out on his boss, bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano). As if this were not bad enough, he has to fight over the felons with similarly scruffy (and ill-tempered) colleague Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton). Having brought in a shotgun-toting criminal, Eddie is so pleased that he fast-talks Jack into taking a very special case. Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) was a Mob accountant, at least until he embezzled $15 million from Chicago mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), gave it to charity, then skipped out on his six-figure bond.
Jack has his misgivings, but the lure of a $100,000 payday is too big to ignore. A little basic detective work gives him a phone number in New York City, but before he can hop over to the Big Apple a very serious FBI agent, Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) pays him a call. In direct terms, Mosely warns Jack not to interfere with the FBI's plans to bring Mardukas in as a star witness against Serrano. Jack makes it to New York, but before he's out of the airport Serrano's thugs make contact and make their own interests known.
A few more nifty detective moves later, Jack has the "Duke" in custody and safely aboard a commercial flight back to L.A. In short order, by wiretap and informer, both the FBI and Serrano get wind of Jack's prize and prepare their own plans. Back aboard the aircraft, Jack finds out that Jonathan was not kidding when he said he couldn't fly -- his fear of flying is, well, so extreme that Jack is forced to haul him over to Grand Central Station for a slow train to L.A.
Expecting Jack and the "Duke" to show up at the airport, Eddie panics when the plane shows up empty. He calls in Marvin Dorfler to go pick up the "Duke," promising him the same fee he's giving Jack -- $25,000. Not knowing Eddie is lying to him, Marvin still figures it's a big payday, and rushes off to find his prize. Marvin finds the pair aboard the Amtrak train, but Jack makes him sorry for his efforts. Jack knows that it's only a matter of time before Serrano and the FBI get on his trail, so it's off to the bus station. As the trip continues, the "Duke" continually gets on Jack's nerves, asking about his plans, his background, his health, and so on.
Serrano gets wind of Jack's change of transportation, and prepares a little assassination party for Mardukas at the Chicago bus stop, only to have it crashed by Agent Mosely with a gang of FBI agents trailing behind. In the ensuing confusion, Jack escapes with the "Duke" in tow, appropriating Mosely's car in the process. With no other way to go, Jack looks up his ex-wife Gail (Wendy Phillips) for an uncomfortable reunion, seeing as how she's married to a corrupt cop (who helped force Jack out of the Chicago Police Department) and he hasn't seen her or his daughter Denise (Danielle DuClos) in nine years. He manages to get some cash and car from her, now driving cross-country, or at least to Amarillo, Texas, where his money runs out. He gets Eddie to wire $500 to Amarillo, which again tips off Serrano, and further enrages Eddie. Yet again, he puts Marvin Dorfler on the trail.
When Serrano's thugs try again in Amarillo to kill the "Duke," this time it is Marvin who rides to the rescue. Some excitement with a helicopter full of Mob thugs later, Jack again gives Marvin the slip (er, the right cross) and keeps running westward with his prize. The bond between the pair is slowly growing, despite their odd situation. As they keep going, Serrano and Agent Mosely keep up their hunt, getting more and more irritated as Jack and Jonathan Mardukas prove quite the elusive pair. A horde of police end up chasing Jack into the Arizona wilderness, but before he can breathe easy Marvin shows up again, but this time he beats Jack to the punch (er, car door) and drives off with the "Duke" and heads for Las Vegas.
Things get very sticky, very quickly as the FBI and Serrano converge on Las Vegas for a final confrontation, with Jack and the "Duke" in the middle. Jack beats the odds once again, but finally decides that some things are more important that money. The End.
Considering that this is a non-anamorphic transfer, and over ten years old, the video is absolutely top-notch. The picture is crisp and clear, so good that in a few scenes I found myself marveling at the wrinkles in De Niro's leather coat. Blacks are solid and the shadow detail is excellent, as are the accurate flesh tones. The print is clean and free of dirt, with very minimal defects or blemishes. Color saturation is good, and I noticed only light video noise that became mildly intrusive on only a couple of occasions. I was also pleasantly surprised not to see any of the shimmering or ringing from digital enhancement that is typical of many non-anamorphic transfers.
This is a pretty good Dolby Surround mix, clearly presenting dialogue and doing a decent job from high to low frequencies. Channel separation is a bit light, with most of the action centered on the screen, but the activity of the subwoofer more than makes up for any other deficiencies. I have had 5.1 mixes (and good ones, too) that didn't use very low frequencies as well as Midnight Run does. The walls vibrated and the cats were annoyed at some of the sustained low frequencies, which definitely added a powerful punch to a number of scenes. Some may find it a bit on the boomy side, but I like it just fine.
The acting is a cut above your typical action/comedy, due primarily to the efforts of our lead actors, Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. They infuse their characters with a life and humanity often omitted in more formulaic pictures, giving us a sense of them as real persons with complex emotions and motivations. The scene between Jack and his daughter at his ex-wife's house is particularly touching and genuine, and might just make you momentarily misty. The rest of the cast, as I noted at the beginning, is a nicely talented lot and they play their roles with relish.
The story is surprisingly good, juggling quite a number of competing story elements within the overall context of the film. Between Jack and Jonathan Mardukas, the Serrano element, the FBI element, and the Moscone and Dorfler bail bondsman element, there is a lot going on in each part and in the interactions among them, but the story keeps moving forward at a nice pace and strikes a nice balance between humor and action.
There are NO extras, not even a lousy trailer. If that were not bad enough, this film is so bare bones that there is not even a main menu. Instead, the only menu is the scene selection. I suppose that there is not much of a point to a real menu system when there are no alternate language tracks and no captioning or subtitles of any kind. This omission is even more incomprehensible, as it prohibits all non-English speakers and the deaf from a full enjoyment of the disc. For shame, Image! And in a snapper case too!
At least until we get the much-desired Beverly Hills Cop on DVD, we can enjoy this fine action/comedy from the same director and with a great ensemble cast. Midnight Run is a must-rent, and if you don't mind a total lack of extras, at least you get a very nice transfer for an okay price ($25) if you are enough of a fan to make a purchase.
The film is acquitted, but the Court orders Image to cease and desist putting out such meager discs on pain of imprisonment.
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R