Midnight Run (1988)

Directed by Martin Brest

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Midnight Run is Planes, Trains and Automobiles plus Robert De Niro.  There’s also a little Rat Race thrown in too as a number of different people all have their sights on a single man transported across the country.

De Niro plays Jack Walsh, a formed Chicago cop who now works as a bounty hunter based in Los Angeles.  He’s same type of noir detective you often see, with a somewhat tragic backstory and determination to get the job done even if there’s no apparent joy left in his life.  That may be taking it a little too far, but Walsh is one of those characters who has little sense of morality because he responds only to the money.  Walsh quickly tracks down his target, Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), but over the course of the story he will be challenged by some of Mardukas’ own ideas, in the process deconstructing his own worldview.

Much of the film is an odd couple road trip story.  When Mardukas feigns a fear of flying, Walsh makes use of some combination of trains, buses and borrowed cars to make it back to Los Angeles.  He must evade the police, a second bounty hunter seeking the reward money and the mafia, who want Mardukas dead for stealing $15 million of their own money.

Early on Walsh repeatedly labels Mardukas a criminal, justifying his own subversion of the law, but it will later become clear that Mardukas’ actions were motivated by the same sense of right and wrong that got Walsh kicked out of the Chicago police force.

Soon after they first meet, Walsh says to Mardukas, “you’re a fucking criminal and you deserve to go where you’re going and I’m gonna take you there and if I hear any more shit outta you: I’m gonna fucking bust your head and I’ll put you back in that fucking hole and I’m gonna stick your head in the fucking toilet bowl and I’m gonna make it stay there.”

Mardukas, an accountant, had no idea he was working indirectly for the mafia, and when he did find out, he took millions of dollars and donated it to people who needed it before going on the run himself.  He knows that Walsh saw the story in the news, and asks how Walsh felt about Mardukas then.  Walsh’s response is that he was on Mardukas’ side.  What changed?  Well the money, of course.

As they spend more time together, Mardukas breaks down this wall and appeals to Walsh’s sense of right and wrong.  It also helps that the people trying to kill Mardukas, the mafia, are the same people who ran Walsh out of town in Chicago when he wouldn’t agree to the bribery the other officers had taken.

So everything builds to a climax that brings together the mob, the police, both bounty hunters and Mardukas.  Deals are made, alliances are forged, and a friendship is cemented.  If it sounds cheesy, well maybe it is, but it plays nicely onscreen.

Up Next: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Zama (2017), Blaze (2018)

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