Miracle Mile

Dir: Steve De Jarnatt
Star: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar, Lou Hancock

Trash City
Top 50 Film
This is the film in the top 50 I was most nervous about viewing. At the time of its original release in the late eighties, it had such a devastating impact on me: completely unloved as I was at the time, I could easily imagine finally finding the girl of my dreams, only to have her snatched away by perfidious circumstances. More than twenty years later, and approaching my eighth anniversary of wedded bliss, would it still have the same emotional resonance? I'll spare you the suspense. Not quite. But damn close. If I was not quite reduced to the whimpering wreck I was after the second viewing [the first time was bad enough - but by god, it was ten times worse watching it, when you knew what was going to happen], it still proved a completly engaging experience, with several moments capable of provoking intense sadness.

The set-up is simple: Harry (Edwards) accidentally gets a phone call suggesting World War III is about to break out. Is it for real, and if so, can he save his new girl, Julie (Winningham), whom he has realized is The One? It's a ticking time-bomb of a movie, and as word of the rumour seeps out, Los Angeles descends into chaos and anarchy, making his task that more difficult. It's almost impossible to review the film without giving away the ending, but it has to rank as among the most jaw-dropping in Hollywood history. Suffice it to say that it's a film best seen with as little prior knowledge as possible, and there are few that bring you into closer contact. with what the impending apocalypse might mean on the most personal of levels.

It's largely Edwards' movie: he has to sell what is, admittedly, a shaky premise. However, the scene in the diner where he recounts what he just heard at the payphone outside, is sincere enough to convince the customers, and it certainly worked for me. Once you buy into that, you just have to go along for the ride, and the pacing offers no chance for you to jump off. You're with Harry, and he's a perfectly credible everyman: he has no superpowers and is not particularly bright (he doesn't figure the obvious way to check the veracity of the call until near the end), but that's what makes him so sympathetic. Winningham is largely off-screen or semi-conscious, her ordinariness works for her too. Julie possesses no fashion sense and a dorky haircut [or maybe that's just the 80's], but her "inner beauty", to use a hackneyed phrase, is undeniable.

It starts off as a blossoming romance that's completely humdrum in nature. However, by the end, you have come an incredibly long way - as you and our star-crossed realize what is unfolding for the city, and perhaps the world, the tragedy of it becomes overwhelming. There have been several pieces that compare the film to Cloverfield, and the way both films finish certainly has similarities. But in its portrayal of a world that falls apart in minutes, not millenia, Miracle Mile is far, far superior.

[March 2010]

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