Martin Brest’s Midnight Run is a downright delight, the kind of film that is endlessly rewatchable. Anchored by a stellar tough-guy performance by Robert De Niro, and a hilarious comedic performance by Charles Grodin, along with a deep supporting cast, this is a film that seamlessly blends comedy and action.
Midnight Run follows bounty hunter Jack Walsh (De Niro), who is enlisted to track down and bring in mob accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Grodin). It turns out that Walsh was ran out of town by the same mob boss that The Duke has ripped off, Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina in another tough-guy mobster rule), and Serrano wants The Duke killed. Meanwhile, FBI agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto, with his endlessly weary eyes, perfect for the role) is also on the hunt for The Duke, hoping to coerce his testimony in order to apprehend Jimmy Serrano. And of course, because things aren’t complicated enough, Eddie Moscone (a young Joe Pantoliano, not yet playing the truly unhinged types of characters we’re more used to these days), the bail bondsman who hired Jack Walsh, decides to hire another bounty hunter to also bring The Duke in.
So two bounty hunters, the mob, and the FBI are all after The Duke, and Midnight Run is a race to see who can bring him in first; George Gallo’s script here has a lot to juggle, but he manages to pull off the balancing act here, quite successfully bringing all of the elements of the script into the action and paying everything off. The tight construction of the script is really the essential element here – this film really wouldn’t work if the structure were any less effective. This is a story we’ve seen before – there’s nothing truly original here – but because the execution is so firm, this film elevates beyond its formula.
The chemistry between The Duke and Jack Walsh is just fantastic here; De Niro and Grodin have so much setup and payoff between the two of them. Grodin in particular is so good here – he plays things so effectively, so close to the chest, so inscrutably at times; he’s a complete curmudgeon, but also so well-meaning – it’s a delicate performance that Grodin does to pull this character off.
It’s certainly fair to point out that some of this film’s quirks and technologies haven’t aged particularly well: the lo-fi phone tapping, minimal airport security, the cheesy ’80s music; however, despite these elements, the film remains entirely watchable.
All told, Midnight Run is such a joyous, almost exuberantly light-hearted movie, and that tone can carry a movie very far – it’s a tone we don’t see often enough in modern movies. This film is a real breath of fresh air.