25 Years Ago Today, Walsh Got the Duke

It’s a comedy. A buddy movie. An action movie. A cops and robbers movie.

Not the kind of thing I usually enjoy.

But from the first time I saw it — on opening day, 25 years ago today, July 20, 1988, at the Lloyd Center Cinemas in Portland, Oregon — Midnight Run has seemed to be a movie of magical chemistry.

Robert De Niro is the reckless, sucker-punching, devil-may-care bounty hunter Jack Walsh. (Call me crazy, but this is my favorite role of his). Charles Grodin is the conscientious accountant who embezzled from the mob and gave to charity. My cat is named after him. Joe Pantoliano is a stressed-out bail bondsman who wears impressive socks. Dennis Farina is a sinister mafia don. Yaphet Kotto is an FBI agent with good sunglasses and better secrets. All of them, at their effortless best. Pantoliano, especially, has never been better.

And here’s Danny Elfman, before he became predictable, composing something that nobody today would guess he had composed.

I’m sure that first-timers won’t see the same movie I saw, because countless buddy movies have copied characters, lines, and whole scenes from this film. It happens at least once a year… I’ll be watching a mediocre movie, and I’ll groan and point accusingly at the screen and say, “That wasn’t even homage. That was downright robbery from Midnight Run. And Midnight Run did it a hundred times better.”

Nevertheless, as used and abused as this movie has become, I’ll always make time to revisit it. It’s a cast of characters I wish would stick around for a series as long as The Wire. These characters are my favorite bunch of buffoons. Whenever I watch movies that take lawmen and bad guys too seriously (which is most of them), I remember this and think that the world screenwriter George Gallo imagined for this film is probably closer to the truth.

But be warned that this cast of buffoons uses f-bombs the way Pollock used paint. (That may bother you; I find it impressively creative, like the work of an first-rate jazz drummer.)

And to think… Robin Williams was the original choice to play Jonathan Mardukas. With anybody but Grodin in that role, it would have been an entirely different — and lesser — movie.

Here’s a trailer from 1988… which is packed with clips that aren’t in the movie at all.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • Eastside School

    I saw a sadder movie, with DeNiro’s character obsessively tapping the watch his (ex) wife gave him. Remember that 25 years later.

  • Evan

    “…clips that aren’t in the movie at all.”
    In other words, you lied to me first.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      This comment gets an A+.


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