Running on Empty (1988)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Coming-of-Age  |   Release Date - Sep 9, 1988 (USA)  |   Run Time - 116 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Perry Seibert

Danny is falling in love with Lorna Phillips, the daughter of the local music teacher. As Danny and Lorna walk along the beach, he is incapable of walking next to her. He keeps running ahead, because running is what he has been forced to do his entire life. His family has been underground since his parents' college days when they caused the death of an innocent bystander during the bombing of a college building. The film deals with the very real emotional pain the family experiences when Danny decides he no longer wants to run. Aside from the pressures of living underground, their characters have not had to pay for their crimes in any profound way, until the point when their son will leave them and they possibly may never see him again. While the world chases after the Popes, they draw strength from each other. Danny's leaving will make their lifestyle all the more difficult; there will be one less person they can rely on. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch are note-perfect. River Phoenix gives a performance full of appropriately conflicting emotions. It is, along with his work in Dogfight, one of the performances that magnifies what he might have become if not for his untimely death. Sidney Lumet underplays the visuals, allowing the actors the room to be subtle. The family's strength and love goes hand-in-hand with their unrelenting stress. The actors project weariness and love in equal measure, making for an emotionally devastating resolution when Danny finally makes the break. Running on Empty manages to tell a realistic story about ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.