Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Film Review | Midnight Run (1988)

Buddy films are a curious pleasure in cinema, situated somewhere between a genre in their own right and a trope of other genres; whatever you consider them to be, if done well they can undoubtedly produce some very satisfying and entertaining results. Finding their roots in duos such as Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello, the 1980s produced several memorable buddy pairings in the Lethal Weapon series, Trading Places and Trains, Planes And Automobiles to name just a handful. Midnight Run is another '80s offering that very often gets overlooked, which is a genuine shame as it's an entry into this quirky quasi-genre which seriously deserves a lot more recognition.

Midnight Run stars Robert De Niro as Jack Walsh, an ex-cop turned bounty hunter who is hired by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) to track down mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), known as "The Duke". Believing the job will be straightforward with a large payout, Walsh soon finds the task further complicated by a number of other interested parties, including the FBI, a rival bounty hunter and the mob boss whom The Duke double-crossed.

Midnight Run is a genuine pleasure. The script is slick and witty, with snappy dialogue and a pleasing pace throughout. The opening act gets things going with no fuss or delay, introducing a number of different threads to the story in quick succession. A lesser director would struggle to keep all the plates spinning throughout, maybe even allowing a couple to smash and hope nobody notices, but Martin Brest keeps things moving satisfyingly with things only feeling a little drawn out towards the end of the second act. The way in which he draws everything together in the final act is superb, however, providing the film with an electrically charged, tense and satisfying finale.

The cast are also strong, with excellent support from all involved. Yaphet Kotto's intimidating FBI agent Alonzo Mosely is a particular highlight, as is John Ashton as adversarial bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler. Both leading men put in strong and funny performances: Grodin's whinging, over-particular accountant shows just how strong a comedy talent he is; De Niro is reliably excellent, taking to comedy superbly over a decade before his more well-documented turns in films such as Meet The Parents. De Niro's performance demonstrates just how superb an actor he is; he doesn't tackle the role as a comedian, instead playing the role of Walsh entirely straight and allowing the humour to organically materialise.

It's the pairing of De Niro and Grodin at the film's core which is the key to Midnight Run being a truly great buddy film. The two men play off each other wonderfully, a genuine odd couple who make you smile whenever they share screen time together. What makes them work even better is the fact that neither is just a stock comic character; there's more to both Walsh and The Duke than meets the eye, developing and deepening as the film progresses. They care more and more about each other, and we care more and more about them.

Midnight Run does have its flaws, however. As mentioned previously, the second act is a little too long making the whole thing feel slightly less tight than it could be. There are also a couple of elements which come across as somewhat underdeveloped - one plot thread involving Walsh's ex-wife and daughter feels fairly flimsy in comparison to the rest of the film. But these are small problems which can easily be forgiven. Midnight Run is a delight of a film, and a prime example of how to do both buddy films and action-comedy incredibly well. De Niro and Grodin as Walsh and The Duke genuinely deserve to be recognised as one of the best buddy film pairings of the 1980s, if not one of the best of all time.


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