Thursday, November 15, 2007

Running on Empty

Sometimes you get a chance to see a truly unique film meant for adults. And that doesn't necessarily mean you get sex, violence, etc, but rather a film that is both intelligent and sincere.

Running on Empty tells the story of the Popes on the run from the law after they blew up a napalm factory during the Vietnam War. Turns out, that a janitor was in the building that wasn't supposed to be... so if the FBI catches them it could mean 15 years in prison. The parents are played very convincingly by the splendid actors Judd Hirsch (Ordinary People) and Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope). They have two sons who constantly have to learn new identities which each new town they are forced to move to each time the "shoes" get too close. River Phoenix is the center of the movie with his portrayal of the older son who finds a first love and a teacher who wants to help him get into college. To do so would mean abandoning his family and stepping into the spotlight.

Most films have taken on the need for plot driven narratives, but this movie feels like a throwback to when the characters were the most important. Being able to get inside of them people you are watching instead of following where the script tells to go is a treat for someone who is tired of the current ouvre of cinema.

This film was directed by Sydney Lumet who I've always felt was a little overrated, but his body of work is quite impressive: The Verdict, Network, Prince of the City, Dog Day Afternoon, The Anderson Tapes, Serpico, and the wonderful Michael Caine film Deathtrap. Lumet seems a bit hit or miss, but always puts an emphasis on the actors and craft. Deathtrap is an essential watch. It is a story about an two men and the secrets between them. It is all set in a country house... I know that sounds someone boring by today's standards, but watching Caine and Christopher Reeves square off is magic. Running on Empty has that same spark each time one of the three leads gets their chance to take center stage.

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