( This post is published by me for Scenes of the Crime Blogathon under the category Action Thrillers/Comedies. A typical guys movie, a hard core pop corn entertainer, backed up with some smart writing, witty dialogue, and great performances by Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, this is just the kind of movie to laze out with for the weekend, when you are not in a mood for some heavy stuff.)
Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes and moments are discussed in the review.
A hundred grand! Are you out of your mind? Jack, this is an easy gig. It’s a midnight run, for Christ sakes.
What happens when you set up a not too verbose bounty hunter with a character who speaks dime a dozen? A guy who has just scammed one of the biggest mob bosses of a cool 15 million dollars. And then you find that what was supposed to be an easy “midnight run”( a bounty hunter’s term for an easy task), turns out to be a wild goose chase across the length and breadth of USA.
Midnight Run, marks a departure for Robert De Niro, from his usually intense, whacked out roles, of pyschotic individuals or gangsters, as he gets into the character of Jack Walsh, a bounty hunter. His mission to get Jonathan Mardukas aka The Duke( Charles Grodin), an accountant who has embezzled a cool 15 million, from a mob boss. The only hitch is that the mob boss happens to be a Jimmy Serrano( Dennis Farina) one of the big gangsters around. From the conversation between Jack Walsh and his bondsman Eddie Moscone(Joe Pantoliano) , Mardukas appears to be a Robin Hood character, some one who steals from the rich, read the powerful, and then gives it away in charity. It is off least interest to Walsh, who just wants his payment for what he feels is one last job. He really does not have much motivation to carry on, and just wants to make a pile of money before he calls it quits.
The task however does not seem as simple as a “midnight run”, for starters The Duke is not wanted just by Serrano, the FBI led by their super egoistic boss, Alonzo Mosely( Yaphet Kotto) wants the Duke to become a witness. Moseley seems to have the dope on Walsh, as he corners him, and that is where we get an inkling of his background. Moseley is clearly contemptuous of Walsh, whom he calls a “third rate rent-a-thug, who could not cut it as a cop in Chicago”. Walsh flicks off Moseley’s FBI badge, and changes it to his id, great scene, again on the flight with the kid next seat looking at him incredulously.
On arriving at New York, where The Duke is hiding, Walsh is approached once again this time by Serrano’s henchmen, Tony and Joey, who offer him a large amount, on the condition that he turns the Duke over. Walsh manages to give them the slip, again a well shot chase scene, where he pulls a fast one on them. The scene where he captures the Duke is again well shot, with Walsh, stalking his target, in turn being stalked by a huge German shepherd, and then the chaotic melee ensuring. Posing up as Alonso Moseley, Walsh manages to handcuff the Duke, and take him, the fun starts here. The Duke is highly intelligent, calm under pressure, and worst of all he just can’t manage to stop talking. Add to it, he is capable of playing mind games with Walsh, countering him at every stage.
THE DUKE:You heard me. I can’t fly.
WALSH: You’re gonna have to do better than that.
THE DUKE: I don’t have to do better than that because that’s the truth. I can’t fly. I suffer from aviophobia.
WALSH: What does that mean?
THE DUKE: It means I can’t fly. I also suffer from acrophobia and claustrophobia.
WALSH: When we get to L.A. you can tell the prison psychiatrist all about it. You fuck with me you’ll suffer from
One of the best scenes in the movie follows, The Duke informing Walsh that he can’t fly as her suffers from a fear of flying. Unknown to Walsh, the Feds have actually tapped the phone of Mardukas, through which he had made a call, and been tracking every move of his. It is not just the Feds, Eddie’s assistant, Jerry is in league with Serrano, and he passes on the information to Tony. In a way they are wanted by both the Mob as well as the Feds. Serrano on getting the information, awaits Walsh and Mardukas, in Los Angeles, or so he believes. The hitch here is that The Duke is mortally afraid of flying. And he makes up a huge scene on the flight, forcing the pilot to get them off the plane.
What follows is a total wild goose chase across the country by train, an old aeroplane, a stolen car. Midnight Run combines the “buddy movie” with the “on the road” genre, adding the man on a run, and the thriller genre, and credit be due to director Martin Brest, he does it effectively. This is a hard core guys movie actioner, the purpose is to entertain, and it does well. What stands out for Midnight Run, is the writing, absolutely top notch. Here are characters you actually care for, especially Walsh and Mardukas, two men who are as similiar as chalk and cheese. Mardukas, the thoughtful, talkative persona, more like a philosopher, and on the other hand you have Walsh, the gruff bounty hunter who just wants to do a job and go home. Walsh hates Mardukas for his talking, and what he feels is his non stop interference in his own matters. Mardukas on the other hand, tries to be a friend, philosopher,guide to the self centered Walsh. We know that sooner or later both the characters will come together, as is the case with most buddy movies, but the way the two characters are sketched out, it makes us root for both of them.
MOSELY Inspector Mosely, FBI.
CAPTAIN Mosely? Are all you guys named Mosely?
MOSELY What are you talking about?
CAPTAIN You’re here to pick up a prisoner, right?
MOSELY How’d you know that?
CAPTAIN He was afraid to fly so he got off the plane. He left with an Agent Mosely.
Another great hilarious scene is at the Los Angeles airport, where both Serrano’s hit men and the Feds are awaiting the Walsh and Mardukas. The look of puzzlement on the faces of Serrano’s henchmen, when they find that Walsh and Mardukas are not on the plane, is superbly captured. The best part is however when the Feds approach the captain, identifying themselves, and then the Moseley finding out his Id was flicked away. In fact Midnight Run is an out and out action comedy, the action scenes themselves having a more comic touch. The comedy is not just with De Niro and Charles Grodin, it also comes through the harassed, bumbling henchmen, Tony and Joey , facing a mean boss.
Or in the scene where Walsh, Mardukas and another bounty hunter, Marvin Doffler( John Ashton), are attacked by a helicopter, a la North by North West. It is a typical Hollywood style action scene, firing, shouting, and tyres wheeling around and the chaos. What stands out however is the dialog between the 3 men, as they fight to survive the copter attack, each blaming one another for the predicament. Or the scene, where Mardukas and Walsh land up at a remote border town, Walsh’s attempts to speak in Spanish, and then seeing that Mardukas has no issues flying. Midnight Run also brings in elements of the road genre, as the characters go from a New York airport to an Amtrak train to a Cleveland bus stop, attacked on the way by a helicopter, land up at a border town, drop in at Chicago, where there is an emotional meeting between Walsh and his ex wife.
Midnight Run is just the kind of movie, you would play when you are in the mood for some fun and entertainment, when you really do not want to deal with too heavy stuff. The best thing though this is an entertainer that is smartly written, has characters you actually care for, and some great dialogue that makes you laugh spontaneously. It is fast paced, and nowhere does the movie get bogged down, and even the action is neither too gory nor long drawn out. It is not just Jack Walsh and Jonathan Madrukas, even the other characters are well written, be it the mob boss Serrano, the super egoistic FBI boss Moseley, the dim witted henchmen of Serrano , all of them stay in your mind. Danny Elfman’s background score is peppy enough, keeping along with the mood of the movie. Robert De Niro, shows his flair for comedy, with his deadpan dialogue delivery, wry remarks, while Charles Grodin provides a perfect foil as the thoughtful, eternally philosophizing Mardukas.