The chase is on in director Martin Brest’s 1988 cult classic “Midnight Run.” As the tag line reads: The mob wants him dead. The FBI wants him alive. And Robert De Niro just wants him to shut up. Which translates to a perfect representation of the movie.
When former mafia accountant Jonathan ‘The Duke’ Mardukas (Charles Grodin) goes into hiding after embezzling five-million dollars from the mafia he was formerly employed by, the list of entities looking for him is small at best. In pursuit are mafia agents working for boss Jimmy Serrano (*Dennis Farina) and the FBI who hope to use testimony from ‘The Duke’ against Serrano. But the first person to grab him is bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) who has been hired by a bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) to fly “The Duke” from Chicago to Los Angeles within five days in order for him to reclaim his $450,000 bail bond. Also in pursuit is rival bounty hunter Marvin (John Ashton), who is seeking the reward money for himself.
In an almost “Rainman“-esque scene, ‘The Duke’ begins to panic on board the plane in Chicago, convulsing and ranting to Walsh that he is terrified of flying, which forces Walsh to find other means of transportation for the cross country voyage including trains, stolen vehicles, and hitchhiking, all the while the two begin to form an unlikely friendship. “I suffer from aviaphobia,” ‘The Duke’ explains on the plane. “It means I can’t fly. I also suffer from acrophobia and claustrophobia.” “I’ll tell you what,” Jack replies curtly. “If you don’t cooperate you’re gonna suffer from fistophobia.”
The plot of “Midnight Run” is an undeniably simple one and because of this, requires it’s on-screen talents to deliver. Robert De Niro is irrefutably one of the greatest actors of all time and boasts such a breadth of characters and roles that anything less than perfection is a loss. De Niro is often typecast as a mafia figure due to his award winning roles in “The Godfather Part II” or “Goodfellas.” He is also a veteran of more serious dramatic roles in which he has starred such as “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver,” or “Cape Fear.” But De Niro has shown his ability to master comedic characters as well, as evidenced by his work in the “Meet the Parents” series. De Niro plays comical roles just as well as psychopaths and his role as Jack Walsh in “Midnight Run” is one of his best.
Lesser known Charles Grodin, who has appeared in dozens of films and television shows dating back to the ‘60s showcases his talents as well with his character ‘The Duke.’ Grodin has a way of delivering humor to his lines that acts as a perfect balance and counterpart to the grittier De Niro. As the story unravels, we learn that ‘The Duke’ is not a typical underhanded mafia accountant, but rather an innocent man caught up in circumstances he has had no control over. Grodin will have you in stitches as ‘The Duke’ slowly pecks away at the hardened exterior of Jack Walsh and makes several vain attempts to escape.
Supporting roles are also filled with great performances by Joe Pantoliano (could there be a better choice for a sleazy bail bondsman?) John Ashton, Philip Baker Hall, and Yaphet Kotto. And could there be a better choice for a mafia boss than that of Dennis Farina? Farina masters the art of a smooth talking slick dressing mobster all the while bossing around his inept henchmen Tony and Joey (Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda) as one would expect. “Is this moron number one? Put moron number two on the phone.”
Check out “Midnight Run.” It’s an enjoyable movie and one everyone needs to be able to say that they’ve seen.
*On July 22nd, 2013, the cinematic world lost the great talents of Dennis Farina, who passed away at the age of 69. Farina owned a thirty year career in film that spawned as a fluke in the aftermath of a two decade career in the Chicago Police Department.
– by Matt Christopher