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Our review of Midnight Run, published September 17th, 1999, is also available.
"You have two emotions, silence and rage."
2007 brings another long favored catalog title to the ever widening Universal HD DVD library in Midnight Run. The film has a pleasant mix of action, humor and some great running jokes and dialogue that have sustained the film's memory long after its 1988 release. And now that it's on high definition video, is it worth the extra money to upgrade?
Facts of the Case
In this film, written by George Gallo (Bad Boys) and directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop), Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull) is a former policeman turned bounty hunter, dutifully working to capture bail jumpers and collect money from a shady bondsman named Eddie (Joe Pantoliano, Daredevil). Eddie tells him about a forgotten bail jumper named Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin, Beethoven), an accountant who embezzled money from a well reputed Chicago mobster and jumped bail. Jack has to capture Mardukas and bring him back to Los Angeles in five days. The capture proves to be surprisingly easy. The trip back to Los Angeles, however, is a little bit more challenging than expected.
Midnight Run offers the chance for a lot of speculation both pro and con. The '80s sure did mine a lot of gold in the odd couple/buddy movie/road trip/comedy genre of films. This film came at the end of that run, and even though the pairing of De Niro and Grodin was slightly eclectic (it was a pairing done at Brest's insistence), the film seemed to be largely forgotten due to release of another memorable film named Die Hard. De Niro was fresh off of The Untouchables and wanted to do a comedy, and even lobbied to appear as the star of Big (the Penny Marshall film that starred Tom Hanks), before taking on the role of Jack. And while he didn't play the film for straight out laughs, his role as the tough guy straight man to Grodin's slightly neurotic yet often pestering comic antics make for hilarity.
In the occasions that I've watched this film over the years, my view on it has changed to where I focus more on the nuances that help reinforce the differences between the two characters. De Niro's character is a tough guy, there's no two ways around it, but he and the other bail bondsmen are clearly in positions that they either want to get out of but can't, or realize the situation sucks and they live with it. In an early scene where Eddie mentions the Mardukas bond to Jack, they both know there's not much room for growth, or a future, doing what they do. When Jack captures Mardukas and begins the arduous task of bringing him back, he knows the money for it is coming to him, and he is looking forward to getting out. Grodin's character is a little more refined than Jack, and when the two are in a restaurant and down to their final pennies before getting an influx of cash, he asks not only for the price of coffee but for tea also. He wants to maintain a small level of personal pride, even in a situation where it's easy to forget about.
Aside from the starring roles, there are plenty of other great supporting performances that really bring the film together into a work of understated comic brilliance. John Ashton (Little Big League) is great in the role of Marvin, a rival bounty hunter only slowed by his dim wits. Yaphet Kotto (Live and Let Die) is FBI agent Alonzo Mosely, who is trying to capture the mobster, and frequently tries to discourage Jack's pursuit to, no avail. And as the gangster in question, Dennis Farina (Get Shorty), who, when not in Crime Story, played a mobster in a recurring role in Miami Vice. He emoted a nice understated menace, and although his threats were hilarious, people were aware that he meant business. The collective group of actors takes Gallo's script, which appears to be a little bit Mamet-esque in the way its oral nuances are peppered through the film, and elevates the film into a harmless mix of drama and fun.
Technically, the film's 1.85:1 widescreen presentation in this 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer isn't too bad, considering most of the film was shot in desert and was caked in dust. The print is mostly clean and the image is an improvement from the standard definition version, though not a terribly good one. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is more of an improvement, with Danny Elfman's score (sounding an awful lot like a Jeff Beck album) bringing a bit of a reliable low end into the mix and a more dynamic sound as a result. The actual film effects don't benefit too much from this audio upgrade however, so there's some bad news that's mixed with the good.
This film is a prime example of one that has been shamefully neglected through the years. The only extras on this disc are a dated making of look at the film which is a few minutes long (which I still almost fell asleep on), along with the trailer. Universal should pony up some cash and put together a retrospective documentary, or even a commentary with Brest and Gallo, to make this disc truly appealing for everyone to pick up.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There was a downside to De Niro's performance in this movie. As funny as it is, and it is pretty funny, it has encouraged him to further explore comic tendencies in subsequent films that have fallen flat. I'd think that Midnight Run is downright awesome if Showtime or The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle hadn't followed for the actor.
Many people should try to overlook De Niro's recent work and give Midnight Run a chance. The audio and video are marginal upgrades if one doesn't already own the film on video, but don't bother double-dipping on an upgrade until someone decides to give this film the treatment it deserves.
Not guilty. Order in the courtroom, or the court will get up and bury this telephone in your head.
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• Making of Featurette
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