Under the title “The Movie That Made Robert De Niro Bankable,” Vulture is running an excerpt from critic Glenn Kenny’s new book Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor.
Kenny positions MIDNIGHT RUN as De Niro’s initial venture away from maverick filmmaking, his “first foray into middle of the road movies” of the Hollywood mainstream. “It’s Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple with guns,” says Kenny. The appeal of the film rests primarily on the chemistry between De Niro and co-star Charles Grodin; Kenny calls their matchup “inspired.”
The film opened well, says Kenny, quoting the New York Daily News, which reported that the movie was “among the nation’s top five box office hits — a select group De Niro rarely inhabits (its returns are already more than the total grosses of such De Niro films as Falling in Love and True Confessions).” Matt Singer, writing in The Dissolve, states that appreciation for the film has grown over time, that it “has slowly risen in stature thanks to decades of play on cable, VHS, and DVD” and is beloved by many. Actor Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation) considers MIDNIGHT RUN a film that must be seen by everyone. Interviewed by Singer, Scott tells why.
“The Dissolve: Why is Midnight Run compulsory viewing?
Adam Scott: I feel like Midnight Run has every single element I look for in a movie. It’s just kind of a grab-bag of everything. But it also isn’t self-aware at all; it’s just a movie that happens to hit upon everything that satisfies me as a moviegoer. It’s really, really funny. Its action scenes are perfectly done. It’s genuinely suspenseful; it’s scary at times. It’s very sad at times. There are two very real lump-in-the-throat moments. It’s such a whole meal, it’s one of my favorite movies.”
Scott also highlights the chemistry between the two leading men.
“The Dissolve: Now I’m going to put you on the spot with a Sophie’s Choice: Who is better in the movie, De Niro or Grodin?
Scott: Man, the movie is so dependent upon their relationship and the interplay between those two guys, I absolutely cannot separate them. Like the “litmus configuration” scene. If that was just one of them, and someone else that couldn’t really keep up with the other, it wouldn’t work, and that’s the whole movie. I don’t think it’s possible to parse out those performances; I think one is simply not possible without the other.”
In fact the cast is filled with wonderful actors giving excellent performances. Writing for Hitfix, Alan Sepinwall notes that the picture “provides room for a small army of great character actors doing fine work. I’m not sure Dennis Farina‘s ever been better (and certainly not funnier) than he is as the hot-tempered Jimmy Serrano, Joe Pantoliano delivers one of his funniest, oiliest performances of that phase of his career as Eddie, John Ashton is wonderful as Marvin, Yaphet Kotto‘s temper is so well-used. This is the first movie where I really noticed Philip Baker Hall (who’s mainly on the receiving end of various threats and one-liners as Serrano’s wary attorney Sidney), for instance. It’s just overflowing with ‘Hey, It’s That Guy!’s.”
But the critical point is this: De Niro is funny. Sepinwall says, “De Niro is one of the greatest actors the cinema’s ever seen, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he can deliver an indelible performance. But in light of his career both before and after, his Jack Walsh is kind of startling. Going into the movie, he was known, understandably, as a powerhouse dramatic actor, one with a pair of Oscars on his mantle for playing the young Vito Corleone and Jake La Motta, and though there were sometimes funny moments in his films, he’d never done a pure comedy before. “Midnight Run” was actually something of a consolation prize after he failed to get the Tom Hanks part in “Big,” and though the movie features action, suspense and genuine drama … it’s primarily a comedy, and De Niro is incredibly funny in it. Though it would have been easy for De Niro, director Martin Brest and writer George Gallo to just make Jack the straight man to The Duke, he’s given a wonderful, blunt, sarcastic sense of humor and can play off of every character in the movie. (He’s nearly as funny opposite, say, Yaphet Kotto as Alonzo Mosley as he is with Grodin.) ”
Kenny concludes: “From this point forward, De Niro would be unstoppable in a new and different way.”