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Mutiny of the bounty
Is director Martin Brest still recovering from the venom injected into him by almost every critic who hated the car crash that was Gigli? In 1988, he made one of the most enjoyable road movies. Camus and Slarek go on a MIDNIGHT RUN. Camus reviews the film, and Slarek covers the technical specs and extras.
 
  "I pursued film because I thought this was the coolest job. I loved the idea of working with writers and musicians and photographers and actors at the same time. It sounds corny but the opportunity to work with De Niro was a dream come true for me."
 
Director, Martin Brest – L.A. Times, July 20th 1988

 

A man after my own heart. Being a director gifts you with the collaborative talents of such a diverse group of individuals and you tend (being in charge) to always get the credit for their collective work. What could be more unfair but satisfying (for the director that is)? Apparently the shoot was tough and Brest didn't click with a core group of the crew who subsequently quit. But there's nothing in the film to suggest anything but a crew of filmmakers at the top of its game. It says volumes that Brest has not directed a film since he was so badly hammered for 2003's Gigli. As he wrote that film too, it must have been a double body blow. But back in 1988 after Beverly Hills Cop, he was hotter than a super nova in a sauna. And, to those with exquisite taste, his star only increased in brightness with Midnight Run. OK. Maybe the movie didn't do Eddie Murphy business but up against the fish out of water Detroit cop in plush Hollywood environs story, Midnight Run is far more satisfying with some blazing one-liners to rival anything Murphy improvised or was entrusted with. It is also a supremely satisfying emotional journey, with a climax that is earned and oddly moving.

Ex-cop turned bounty hunter, Robert De Niro, is the cynical and world-weary misanthrope Jack Walsh whose ethics and personal code didn't allow him to stay on the corrupt Chicago police force. He is a cop at heart but not at the price of his own conscience. He made a powerful enemy, mafia drug lord Jimmy Serrano (played by ex-cop and Michael Mann favourite Dennis Farina). He now lives hand to mouth, dependent on a shady bail bondsman to fund his borderline meager existence. His competitor, the brutish Marvin (John Ashton), is always one step ahead of De Niro and his efforts to land the biggest fish of his career. His rampantly devious and disloyal employer, bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (The Matrix's rat, Joe Pantoliano) is set to lose a small fortune having bailed out a mob accountant who stole from his boss, the afore mentioned Serrano. Everyone knows that the accountant's life is in extreme jeopardy if anyone gets wind of where he's holed up. No one knows where Jonathan (the Duke) Mardukas (played by Charles Grodin) is hiding. Some simple detective work reveals his location and handcuffed, he and De Niro start a trip that is somewhat memorable to say the least. I'm reliably informed that Grodin's wrists still bear the scars of this particular shoot. Yes, OK... I got the information about Grodin's wrists from the internet but why would it lie? I'll leave that one open ended.

It's so satisfying to see an actor whose early choices pegged him as a terribly serious thespian lightening up just a little. De Niro, it transpires, is also deft at comedy. His cross-dressing Captain Shakespeare in the enchanting Stardust was also a delight but Midnight Run was really the acclaimed actor's first stab at playing light and he pulls it off handsomely. In what be my favourite small moment of a movie crammed with winners, De Niro tells his bail bondsman from a phone booth that if he has any more trouble he'll shoot Grodin and dump him in a swamp. Grodin looks at him in alarm. De Niro's shake of the head is comedy gold. In the urbane and upstanding Charles Grodin (when he's not siphoning off mob money for children's charities) De Niro has a foil he can honestly play off. The two men fit together beautifully despite one spending almost the entire movie trying to get away from the other. Their exchanges are the heart of the film, a heart that gets more sincerely emotional as the two men share very personal experiences. Grodin brings out a reluctant and truculent De Niro and he in turn allows Grodin a crack in his own macho facade to force open a few affecting layers. There is a scene in a boxcar that punches well above its emotional weight but is all the more satisfying for that. It's here that the 'have you ever had sex with an animal?' remark opens a steadfastly locked door. Once we arrive at De Niro's ex-wife's house (to borrow a car) and with Grodin's support, we may be in a different movie but it's all the more affecting for the change in emotional temperature. I loved De Niro shockingly acknowledging his daughter's growth. He's missed out on a childhood but remained true to himself. It says a lot about what a man is prepared to lose to live by his own principles.

There's not a weak performance in the entire film and even in supporting roles, the actors shine. I'm thinking in particular of an industry-wide underused but tremendously powerful actor, Yaphet Kotto, whose burly and intimidating physicality manage to snag some of the best moments of the film playing FBI Special Agent Mosely. He could never convince as anything approaching a weak character (even up against Giger's alien). He does slow burn and explosive frustration both equally persuasively. Farina is suitably powerful in a role tailor made for a confident and sadistic bully with terrible taste in clothes (the shiny suit, yuck!) and henchman ("Is that moron number one? Put moron number two on the phone.") and he steals some of the best lines and I won't spoil any by quoting more as much as I'd like to. Not sure about his sartorial expertise but hey, bad guys can't have everything. John Ashton's Marvin (the older Beverly Hills detective in Brest's Eddie Murphy vehicle) is a triumph of coarse over common sense.

But where the film scores so strongly is the deft interplay of real drama, real emotion, expertly executed action and daft, almost knockabout comedy. Danny Elfman's jazzy score emphasizes the fun of the enterprise but from one moment to the next (unless you've seen it several times... guilty as charged) you have no idea what emotional/action button the movie is going to push next. The comedy is interwoven with the action so much so that it's hard to pin a genre on the movie itself. It's a wildly entertaining hybrid and this is a great part of its charm. Critics have pointed to this diversity in plot ambition and its subsequent mechanics as dramatic and narrative faults. I have no idea what they are talking about. Midnight Run is funny, exciting, twice terribly touching and barrels along at a great pace, while maintaining its emotional integrity. These are attributes most movies would envy. It comes, from this reviewer at least, highly recommended.

sound and vision

The original UK DVD release from Universal had a letterboxed transfer, so the 1080p 1.85:1 image here is a serious step up all round. The image itself is spotless,  the picture rock solid in frame, the sharpness and picture detail crisp and the colour largely naturalistic. The contrast is punchy throughout – when the lighting is favourable this results in a really pleasing image, but in darker scenes this can result in some of the detail being sucked in to get those solid black levels, though no more so than on Universal's previous DVD. On the whole, this is a fine job.

On the soundtrack front, there's a choice between Linear PCM 2.0 stereo – which I'm guessing is closest to how the film originally played – and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. Surprisingly, perhaps, I preferred the stereo track, which has a brightness and clarity that feels a tad subdued on the 5.1 track, where a little too much to the lower frequency sound ended up in the subwoofer. The dialogue and music come across particularly well, though neither have quite the dynamic range of more modern studio features.

Optional SDH subtitles are also available.

extra features

We Got the Duke – Interview with Charles Grodin (12:27)
26 years older, slimmer and wearing a baseball cap, the still instantly recognisable Charles Grodin (there's something about that voice) remembers how he landed a role that plenty of actors wanted and Paramount apparently wanted Cher to play. Yes, you read that right, Cher the singer turned actress who was flying high at the time off the success of Moonstruck. Can you imagine? He talks about his unconventional first marriage and his current long-lasting one (there is a relevant story that segues into this), and reveals that our favourite exchange in the boxcar scene (the aforementioned "D'you ever have sex with an animal, Jack?" one) was the result of him being asked by director Brest to improvise an lines that would allow the two characters to re-bond. I particularly like Grodin's comment about royalty: "You became royalty by winning a war and declaring yourself king, but some people get it into their head that they're better than others, and it's foolish." Absolutely.

Moscone Bail Bonds – Interview with Joe Pantoliano (14:24)
Adorned in a jacket, a beret and some silver neck chains, the ever so slightly bohemian looking Pantoliano recalls how he got into acting, how he landed the role of Eddie Moscone (director Brest was initially not convinced he'd be right for the part, being too young and too slim for the role as originally envisaged), and reading and working with De Niro. He outlines the importance of nailing the audition (too many came in and just gushed at De Niro), and has the highest of praise for Charles Grodin ("a genius comedian"), whose performance he claims is the glue of the movie.

Hey Marvin! – Interview with John Ashton (17:27)
Sporting a flat cap and a sizeable cigar, the hugely entertaining and good natured Ashton remembers landing the role of Taggart in Beverley Hills Cop, being prompted to adlib by director Martin Brest, finding out about the role in Midnight Run and auditioning with De Niro (his story confirms Pantoliano's claim that your acting career can depend on what you do in that few minutes you spend in the audition room). He claims that had he not got into acting that he'd probably be dead by now ("I was a bit of a juvenile delinquent"), and reveals that Dorfler was a real scumbag in the script and was originally killed off, but a rewrite was forced when it was realised that he was becoming so likeable. The funniest bit has Ashton recall his and De Niro's use of what he calls a "fuck meter" to judge whether they were overdoing the swearing, and he gets surprisingly emotional when he talks about why he became an actor. Like just about everyone else interviewed here, he has nothing but fond memories of the shoot itself and regards it as "the best film I ever did, best film experience I ever had, bar none."

Midnight Writer – Interview with Screenwriter George Gallo (24:48)
The only hatless video interviewee here, the thoroughly engaging Gallo covers in some detail how Midnight Run came to be, confirms that Paramount were pushing Brest hard to cast Cher as Mardukas ("Paramount wanted to starfuck the movie") and suggests that Brest's refusal to give in to this was what led them to take the project to Universal instead. He discusses his working relationship with Brest, his dizziness at being a 31-year-old newcomer and hanging out with De Niro, and reveals that a key sequence in the film stems from his own fear of flying, one that came close to losing him the gig when he refused to travel by plane with Brest from Chicago to New York. There's a lot more here than this and it's all good.

I'm Mosely! – Audio Interview with Yaphet Kotto (7:36)
The wonderful Yaphet Kotto is interviewed by phone and remembers how refreshing it was to get a comedy script after a slew of screenplays for would-be Alien clones had landed on his desk. He fondly recalls working with Martin Brest and Robert De Niro, and describes Mosely as the black Inspector Clouseau and "completely and absolutely out of his fucking mind."

Original 'Making Midnight Run' Promo (7:26)
Very typical of EPKs of the period, this is nonetheless a valuable inclusion for its brief interviews with the cast, director Brest and a young George Gallo, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it behind the scenes footage, and a couple of shots that didn't make it into the finial film.

summary

Still one of the most sublimely written, performed, directed and scored comedy-dramas of the 1980s and one of our all-time favourite mismatched pair road movies. It features Robert De Niro's first and finest comic performance, Charles Grodin at his on-screen best, a pair of pitch-perfect turns from Yaphet Kotto and Dennis Farina, and...oh, it's just terrific. Second Sight's Blu-ray is a huge leap over the previous DVD release in every respect, and thus I have to concur with my fellow reviewer and highly recommend this welcome release.

Midnight Run

USA 1988
mins
directed by
Martin Brest
produced by
Martin Brest
written by
George Gallo
cinematography
Donald Thorin
editing
Chris Lebenzon
Michael Tronick
Billy Weber
music
Danny Elfman
production design
Angelo Graham
starring
Robert De Niro
Charles Grodin
Yaphet Kotto
John Ashton
Dennis Farina
Joe Pantoliano
Richard Foronjy
Robert Miranda
Jack Kehoe
Wendy Phillips
Philip Baker Hall

disc details
region B
video
1.85:1
sound
LPCM 2.0 stereo
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles
English SDH (optional)
extras
Interview with Charles Grodin
Interview with Joe Pantoliano
Interview with John Ashton
Interview with Screenwriter George Gallo
Audio Interview with Yaphet Kotto
Original 'Making Midnight Run' Promo
distributor
Second Sight
release date
20 April 2015
review posted
19 April 2015

See all of Camus's reviews