Miracle Mile Review
When Harry Washello (Anthony Edwards) first strikes up a conversation with Julie Peters (Mare Winningham) it’s at La Brea Tar Pits. Arguably not the most romantic of settings, but there’s instantly a connection between them. He’s a shy twenty-something trombone playing jazz fanatic who can’t believe his luck at finally meeting the right girl. She works as a waitress at Johnie's, one of those all-night restaurants in LA shrouded with flashing incandescent bulbs, massive neon lettering and a gigantic rotating hamburger mounted high above the building – in case you were to drive straight past and fail to notice its existence. They’re both sensitive souls ably demonstrated early on when Harry buys up a restaurant’s entire stock of live lobsters, only to ensure their safe release back into the sea. The couple are smitten and everything seems perfect, up until the night they arrange to meet after Julie’s shift finishes. Just when you think this is going to be a typically sappy eighties-set rom-com, writer / director Steve De Jarnatt - in his second feature – takes the film unexpectedly into much darker territory.
It all starts to go awry when Harry manages to oversleep due a power cut in his hotel that effects the alarm clock – the circumstances behind this incident have to be seen for sheer inventiveness. Harry stirs and realises he has missed his date by over three hours and with the time approaching 4am he makes a frantic dash to Johnie's. As you might expect, disgruntled Julie has long gone when he arrives. He tries calling her in the phone booth outside, but to no avail. This is the late eighties and pre-dates mobile texting, so at least he’s spared the obligatory angry emoji of modern times. Moments later the phone starts to ring and Harry instinctively goes back and takes the call. It’s not Julie on the other end though, but some panicky young guy named Chip who’s allegedly calling from a missile silo in North Dakota. Chip has misdialled and believes he’s talking to his father, frantically imparting some devastating news about them launching their nuclear missiles and in retaliation the US is going to be hit in approximately 70 minutes. There’s the sound of gunfire on the line and then Chip is silenced. Harry is naturally disturbed by what he has just heard, but is it just a prank call or is LA – including Harry’s stomping ground around the Miracle Mile - about to be nuked? At this point De Jarnatt grabs viewers by the lapels and takes us on a frenetic ride as we follow Harry almost in real time for the rest of the movie, played out to a rapid electro-beat courtesy of Tangerine Dream.
Miracle Mile has been compared to After Hours in that it follows a regular guy during one crazy night in a city, encountering hostility and danger around every corner. While it is not quite in the same league as Scorsese’s film, it does boast a far more terrifying narrative hook. Edwards has the everyman charm, filling the shoes of a role that might once have been played by the likes of James Stewart. There’s real chemistry too with his co-star Winningham - apparently the pair had been friends prior to the shoot. There are also some nice touches throughout, like how Julie’s grandparents who haven’t spoken to each other for 15 years following a dispute, suddenly decide to settle their differences in the face of adversity. Watch closely too for a profusion of familiar faces including James Cameron’s regular actress Jenette Goldstein (billed here simply as “Beverly Hills Chick # 1”), perennial B-movie bad guy Brian Thompson, former con Edward Bunker and actor turned director Peter Berg in one of his earliest roles. What De Jarnatt captures effectively is how a city can rapidly descend into panic and turmoil following the threat of a looming disaster, be it natural or in this case man-made. These sequences are skilfully shot by Dutch cinematographer Theo Van de Sande, making his Hollywood debut. This bold and uncompromising cautionary tale may not be for those seeking feel-good light relief. However, nearly 30 years after its initial release, the themes still resonate in this chilling little gem, making the criminally overlooked Miracle Mile ripe for rediscovery.
Arrow Video has released Miracle Mile as a dual format edition. The BD is presented in 1080p, preserving the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Despite being mostly shot at night, the image here retains an impressive amount of detail with deep blacks and grain well managed. There is some slight degradation in the picture during a few optical FX sequences, including the opening credits, where some brief specks and lines are visible. Elsewhere, the clarity is sharp enough to occasionally expose the film’s low budget origins – for example a mic boom is reflected very briefly in the window of Johnie’s restaurant.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and does the job adequately enough. It’s not going to compete with modern sound mixes found on the latest blockbusters, but the dialogue is clear throughout, Tangerine Dream’s hypnotic electro score is delivered effectively and the FX are suitably punchy. There's also an option of English SDH.
Miracle Mile was first released on BD in the United States by Kino Lorber during 2015 in a region A locked edition. All the extras that appeared on that edition are present also on this new UK release from Arrow Video, who have then added even more bonus material on top making this the ultimate version of the film to own.
Interview with writer/director Steve De Jarnatt (2017, 31 mins) - In this new interview produced by Arrow Video, the director explains how as a young man he set out to be a scientist, but his math ability was not good enough. He, instead, borrowed a friend’s Super 8 camera and started making shorts. This lead to a brief spell at the American Film Institute, where he rubbed shoulders with future big shot directors such as Ed Zwick and John McTiernan. During the early eighties De Jarnatt pitched various ideas to the studios, but it was his screenplay for Miracle Mile that caught their attention. Warner Bros. were keen to make the movie, but wanted to tweak the bleak ending. The director stuck by his guns, determined that nobody was going to change his vision, so bought back the rights and then spent nearly a decade trying to get the project off the ground.
The maverick indie Hemdale Film Corporation eventually came to the rescue. They had a strong track record, having been behind a string of acclaimed films like The Terminator, Salvador and Platoon. Hemdale offered De Jarnatt just over $4 million to direct the movie as intended, which ended up doing respectable box office business in 1989 until Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade knocked it out of US cinema chains. The whole experience of getting Miracle Mile made proved so exhausting that De Jarnatt chose to never direct another feature film (this was actually his second movie after Cherry 2000). He would later direct some television shows, before retiring and focussing his attention on writing short stories.
Julie & Harry (12 mins) - A brief but informative chat with the two principal stars Mare Winningham and Anthony Edwards who describe the director as a “sweetheart”.
Supporting cast and crew reunion featurette (25 mins) - An entertaining trip back to the famous coffee shop on Wilshire Boulevard where Miracle Mile was filmed, reuniting most of the cast as they reflect upon their experiences.
The Music of Tangerine Dream (16 mins) - An interview with co-composer Paul Haslinger.
Deleted scenes and outtakes (11 mins) - It was definitely a good move ditching that weak “diamond” ending.
Rubiaux Rising (22 mins) - A haunting short story, (published in 2009) written and read by Steve De Jarnatt, about a young man who has returned from war a double amputee and is now recuperating in his aunt’s attic in St. Louis as a storm rages outside.
Audio commentary by Steve De Jarnatt.
Audio commentary by Steve De Jarnatt, cinematographer Theo Van de Sande and production designer Chris Horner.
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork which is very eye catching.
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Tim Lucas (not available for review).
Miracle Mile is released by Arrow Video on October 16, 2017.