Midnight Run (1988)
“Charles Grodin embezzled 15 million dollars. The mob wants him dead. The F.B.I. wants him alive. Robert De Niro just wants him to shut up.”
Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto
Synopsis: An accountant is chased by bounty hunters, the FBI, and the Mafia after jumping bail.
A lot of movies from the 1980s are looking a little dated these days, but Martin Brest’s Midnight Run is one of the few that has stood the test of time without losing any of its vitality or spark. Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin – an example of skilful casting of contrasting styles if ever there was one – play off one another perfectly, while the supporting cast are each given quirks of their own rather than simply being asked to flesh out the cast list. Unusually for a movie from any era or genre, Midnight Run has no leading lady, but it’s a measure of the movie’s superiority that you barely even notice while you’re watching.
De Niro plays Jack Walsh, a former cop who left a corrupt police force to become a bounty hunter for Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano), a sleazy bail bondsman who operates out of a seedy back street office. Walsh is a bitter man, prevented from doing the job he prefers because of his honesty, estranged from his wife and daughter, and filled – as mob embezzler Johnathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) perceptively notes – with silence and rage. Walsh is despatched by Moscone to hunt down Mardukis, who has skipped town on bail, and return him within five days in return for a payment of $100,000.
Finding Mardukis proves to be the easy part of the task – returning him to Moscone is the tricky part, because Walsh isn’t the only one who’s after him. FBI agent Alonzo Moseley is also on Mardukis’ trail, and also that of mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina),from whom Mardukis embezzled $15 million and stole some incriminating discs. Naturally, Serrano also has his own men searching for Mardukis in order to recover the discs and wipe him out. Also hunting down both Walsh and Mardukis is Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton), an unscrupulous colleague of Walsh’s who isn’t above selling Mardukis to the highest bidder.
Midnight Run races along at a brisk pace, but still finds time to create some compelling characters. Mismatched buddy movies were ten-a-penny back in the 1980s, and while Midnight Run follows the genre template, this focus on character lifts it above the ordinary, and slyly pokes fun at its protagonists and their idiosyncrasies. The initial enmity between Walsh and Mardukis is slowly eroded over time by the realisation that they have been thrown together by a shared sense of honour: Walsh left the force because of its corruption which he couldn’t fight or accept, while Mardukis donated all the money he stole from Serrano to charity. Other characters are linked to Walsh by physical objects: the watch he repeatedly checks was the first gift his wife bought him; sunglasses link him to agent Moseley, while the cigarettes he constantly smokes are a vice he shares with the deceitful Marvin.
While Midnight Run won’t be to everybody’s taste – the frequent use of the F-bomb will no doubt put plenty of people off although, given the type of people the movie deals with, it’s use is entirely within context and never gratuitous – it has that undeniably 80s feel. And that’s not a bad thing, because back then filmmakers were still prepared to focus on characterisation and plot between the explosions and car chases, unlike today when they believe a flashy visual style will disguise an unholy multitude of sins.
(Reviewed 31st July 2012)