Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is a bounty hunter charged with transporting a renowned white collar criminal Jonathan Marducas (Charles Grodin) across America to Los Angeles for a one hundred thousand dollar payday.
He has five days to make the handover and collect his cash. Jack finds and apprehends Mardukas in mere hours after taking the job.
An express flight from the East to the West coast of America is 6 hours, and five days is 120 hours. Piece of piss right?
Wrong. Mardukas claims to be petrified of flying, but that is but a minor hitch once you realise that the FBI want the Duke – as Marducas was known in mob circles – for themselves, the mob don’t want him in custody blabbing about their affairs and rival a bounty hunter Dorffler (John Ashton) also hired to bring in the Duke conspire to meddle with what should have been a smooth trip.
So Jack has three very interested parties that would love some private time with the man he is hoping to be well paid – enough to retire – to escort across country. Some want the Duke dead, others want him in prison, and still others just want him for their own financial gain. Now the Duke wasn’t the man handling the extortion, execution or shakedowns, he merely did their books. Jack knows this, he was an ex-cop who was involved in the original case himself.
The Duke is also a nice guy and loves a conversation. Too nice and too in love with conversation as it turns out; he won’t shut up. He is genuinely interested in Jack to the point of harassment. Jack isn’t such a bad guy, but he is not such a nice guy, especially after gunfights, car chases and every unexpected dead end, stopover and detour possible. As the Duke observes at one point Jack has “two forms of expression; silence and rage”.
It is this testy relationship that drives the film, while it might not sound amusing to have one character doggedly asking the same questions again and again only to be repeatedly told to ‘shut the fuck up’ it actually is pretty funny. The action is generally not too flashy aside from a car chase that builds to almost Blues Brothers’ proportions for a moment and the body count and blood levels are kept quite low.
Midnight Run probably shouldn’t compare favourably to many other violent road movies but holds up due to the dynamic between the two leads, Grodin and De Niro being better actors than any cast in such a film before or since (I’m talking obviously about the 80s and 90s De Niro – not The ‘Fockers’ time waster). The supporting cast too is excellent, Yaphet Kotto as the FBI agent always a step behind Jack, Denis Farina as the abrupt and profane mob boss and even Phillip Baker Hall as his reserved consul Sydney all shine.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. There is nothing particularly new or revolutionary about Midnight Run, especially nearly 25 on, but it is entertaining and interesting throughout, and highlights two of the better actors of the previous generation.