The Best Movie You Never Saw: Midnight Run

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at MIDNIGHT RUN!

THE STORY: A routine job for a tough guy bounty hunter (Robert De Niro) turns into a nightmare thanks to his wily mark (Charles Grodin), an accountant who’s stolen $15 million from the Chicago mob.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Dennis Farina. Music by Danny Elfman. Written by George Gallo. Directed by Martin Brest.

THE HISTORY: While modern audiences are used to seeing Robert De Niro show up in big, broad commercial films, with his particular niche these days being comedy, in the seventies, eighties and nineties, that wasn’t his style. Notoriously choosy (at the time), De Niro often flirted with comedy (he was initially cast as the lead in BIG) but typically backed-out at the eleventh hour in favor of dramatic work. Yet, in 1988, director Martin Brest was able to entice him to star in the action-comedy MIDNIGHT RUN, co-starring Charles Grodin.

DeNiro is very spontaneous and it always helps to work with an artist like that. But Marty Brest! “Herr Director” shot so many takes of the scenes that I lost all joy in doing the film. It became hard and tedious work. Then he stopped eating during the shoot and became thinner and thinner each day, until he looked like a ghost behind the camera. When I met Marty at the Universal studio with DeNiro, he looked healthy and strong, but as filming went on, he began to turn into someone you’d see in Dachau. It was weird. I got sick and for the whole of the film I had a fever and was under the weather for most of it… I was shocked when it came off so funny… It sure wasn’t funny making it. – Yaphet Kotto Interview 

Opening to rave reviews, Universal committed a $15 million marketing budget to the film in the hopes of turning it into a big, broad hit. The film wound up being a modest success, grossing $38 million in North America, although this barely exceeded the $35 million budget, with it breaking even thanks to worldwide grosses and home video. Eventually, it turned into enough of a money maker there’s been talk on and off about doing a sequel, but for the most part this remains an unfairly obscure, underrated classic.

WHY IT'S GREAT: For many of us who came of age in the eighties, MIDNIGHT RUN was our first Robert De Niro movie, just like how, in many cases, TWINS was our first exposure to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It used to be unique when big-time dramatic/action actors took change-of-pace roles, although, with the decline of the all-around movie star, most of them mix it up more often in the hopes of having more hit movies under their belts.

So, while nowadays people maybe get more varied careers, totally unexpected outliers like MIDNIGHT RUN don’t really exist anymore. It’s also worth noting that the cross-country buddy comedy, a highly commercial choice in the eighties, would now likely be an indie or something along those lines, as it’s less easily classifiable than studios are comfortable with nowadays. That’s the beauty of MIDNIGHT RUN. It’s really funny, but it’s not a comedy. It has some good action, but it’s not really an action film. I suppose the best thing to classify it as would be a light thriller, although Martin Brest, coming off BEVERLY HILLS COP, isn’t afraid to go dark when needed, such as when Dennis Farina’s mobster tells the hapless Grodin that once he’s done with him, he’s going to calmly murder his wife.

The way Chuck Grodin is, it worked. His character was irritating and Chuck knew how to do that, to work that. I felt like that was a good way to go.  – Robert De Niro Panel – excerpted by The Playlist 

MIDNIGHT RUN probably wouldn’t work as well were it not for the chemistry between De Niro and Grodin, who seem to genuinely be having a good time. De Niro often looks like Grodin’s on the verge of cracking him up, while Grodin seems to be having a ball doing stunts and dipping his toe into action scenes. It moves tremendously well, backed by one of Danny Elfman’s all-time best scores, and peppered with outstanding supporting players like Joe Pantoliano, John Ashton, and the scene-stealing Yaphet Kotto, in what seems to be a dry run for his long turn on “Homicide: Life on the Streets.”

BEST SCENE: Again, a movie like MIDNIGHT RUN lives or dies by its casting, and boy oh boy were De Niro and Grodin right for their parts. De Niro, at the time, had never been as loose as he is here, and this bit of business, where the two bond and tease each other about what farm animals they’d have sex with, nicely illustrates the growing on-screen/off-screen bond between the two.

SEE IT: MIDNIGHT RUN was recently re-released by Shout Factory on Blu-ray, and is also available on most streaming sites.

PARTING SHOT: Now, I realize that a lot of you reading this have seen MIDNIGHT RUN, so no doubt I’ll get some comments saying “seen it!” However, I’m willing to bet this is under the radar of our younger readers, and if you want to see Robert De Niro at his best in a totally entertaining thriller, check this one out. It’s a blast.

Source: JoBlo.com



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