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11 Reviews
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phoenix's best film, a wonderful drama., 22 July 2009
By 
Mr Ghostface (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
This is quite possibly River Phoenix's best film, and certainly his Oscar nomination was well deserved. The elder son in a family who live on the run from the FBI (for a crime they committed in protest at the Vietnam war in the early seventies), Phoenix's Danny is a complex and talented young man who reaches an impasse; he must choose between his life on the run or risk a life without his family in order to achieve his own potential as a talented pianist.

It's hard not to identify with this family, they are all fully realised characters superbly portrayed all round. All the performances here - Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch, Martha Plimpton, Steven Hill et al - are standouts. The direction by Sidney Lumet is gentle and observant, the script by Naomi Foner (Jake Gyllenhaal's mum, no less) is subtle and honest.

While the entire film is engaging and poignant, particularly memorable is the birthday dinner scene, where brilliant use is made of James Taylor's Fire and Rain. The song is repeated hauntingly at the film's climax, and if that scene doesn't make you at least want to cry, you're better of down the local multiplex munching on popcorn between the set-pieces.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Running on Empty", 26 Nov 2005
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
This is a film I first saw on TV in my late teens, before I was old enough to realise what it meant. It stayed with me in the back of my mind as something half-remembered, something I'd love to see again. Last week it was released on DVD in the UK and I had pre-ordered a copy (thank you, Amazon!). I've not been so moved by a film for as long as I can remember. The performances are so fresh, the script feels so natural (Naomi Foner justly won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Screenplay), nothing is overstated or overplayed - the weight of the family's circumstances builds up in the background, and when it hits the surface it knocks you sideways.
Danny (River Phoenix) and Lorna (Martha Plimpton) have an evening together, they started kissing while he's walking her home, he breaks away, she's angry and stomps home. Next day he tries to talk to her and she won't listen. He goes to find her and explains how his family lives, constantly on the run from the FBI, and why he can't be with her unless she knows this: and how he's never explained this to anybody before. During this scene you go through the journey in her head from being a teenage girl with a crush on a boy to fully comprehending another person's life; from playing games with boyfriends to entering into a relationship that will change her life and his. It's masterfully done.
If you'd read the pitch for this movie, you'd think it could so easily have been instantly forgotten. Foner's script, Sidney Lumet's subtle direction, the performances of perfect cast and an appropriately haunting piano/guitar score by Tony Mottola have ensured that this film will be watched over and over again.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful 'new' transfer., 5 Mar 2011
By 
Mr. John R. Lee (Portsmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
What an improvement a beautiful new transfer can make!
I too was hooked on this film many years ago when I first saw it on television, and I bought an early 4:3 pan and scan version which I would watch from time to time. Only when it failed to work on my new player was I reminded that it was in fact a region 1 ntsc dvd, and one of the reasons I had originally searched out a multi region player.
Consequently, I went searching for, and immediately bought, this wide screen region 2 version to be able to carry on watching it. Now wish I had done so long ago.
This is an intelligent, thought provoking film which was so effective despite the old, small, relatively poor quality video transfer of that ntsc version. The colour and detail in this new transfer add a whole new dimension by letting us see the emotions on the actors' faces as not possible before.
I would recommend anyone else owning that old region 1 version to go out and replace it immediately.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful film, 14 Dec 2007
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
This is one of the seminal films from my youth. It is heartbreaking, funny, warming and has a brilliant soundtrack featuring James Taylor's 'Fire and Rain' which makes me cry every time I hear it. It's intelligently written and you really feel for the characters.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of River's Best!, 26 Jan 2012
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
Running on Empty is a film with the plot line that a husband and wife are always moving from place to place, and changing their identities everytime to escape getting caught for a incident that happened years before. This lifestyle is tough on their children, especially 17 year old Mihael who is just starting to realise that he does not want the rest of his life to be like that. When this film first came out a lot of people compared the film to that of River's real life, this is not the case and he picked up on it in many interviews, saying that yes his family did move around a lot when he was younger but only because they wanted to not because they were on the run! I really would recommend this film...:D
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't Mention The War!, 9 April 2008
By 
Ian Millard - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
A well-constructed and well-acted film, based on the situation of a family in constant fear of detection by the FBI. The reason? The parents were involved in the bombing of a laboratory researching napalm, in 1971. A security guard was blinded in the attack and they have been fugitives since then, constantly changing locations, jobs, schools for their two children, who are drilled in their new names, backgrounds etc every few months. The boys are also schooled in how to spot and evade surveillance. The family have fallback rendezvous points just in case...the "whole nine yards" of terrorist/espionage tradecraft, really. They are assisted by The Network, the remnants of their late Sixties/early Seventies underground group.

The River Phoenix character is a skilled musical student and gets the chance, in his new school, in suburban New Jersey (the film was partly filmed in Tenafly), to attend the prestigious Juillard School of Music in New York City. His father, played by Judd Hirsch (who realizes the role of Sixties Jewish radical grown middleaged rather well) realizes that, if the son attends Juillard, arrest is almost guaranteed in time, so says he cannot go, but the son wants to and has formed a romantic-sexual liaison with the daughter of the NJ school music teacher...

The film was made in 1988 and won an Oscar. It is clear that it takes its inspiration mainly from the existence of the "Weather Underground" network (itself named after a Bob Dylan song). The same theme was dealt with also, but in a comic way, in the (also 80's) film Flashback. In fact, there ARE still, not even 20 but 40 years after the radical late Sixties, Wanted fugitives of this kind in the USA, still seriously sought by the FBI! One woman was arrested in Pennsylvania (I think) while (coincidentally!) I was visiting Tampa, Florida in 1999. She was the wife of a local doctor and had lived there for about 20 years, but was still wanted for a bombing similar to the one in this film. She was going to be put on trial, I believe, but I know not the result. The irony is that she, like the people in this film, had long ago, decades ago, given up any ideas about armed struggle and was living a kind of unremarkable American middleclass surburban lifestyle; the pointlessness of continuing with a para-"armed struggle" today was brought to life in this film and highlighted by the reappearance of a former comrade who still did things like robbing banks, having turned (like the IRA and others) to crime while pretending continuing political commitment. The parents in this film are, like that real woman, trapped because they did one terroristic thing which now continues to haunt their lives. Terrorism they now see as pointless (the bombing would not have prevented napalm research and was but a gesture...gesture politics?).

Recommended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars utterly brilliant, 8 July 2010
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
I was a huge River Phoenix fan and this is unquestionably his best performance, probably my favourite film of all time, i wish i could give it more stars.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 9 Mar 2009
By 
R. Davey (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
If there is a woman of a certain age who didn't at one time want to be Martha Plimpton or want to marry River Phoenix I've never met her! This is a great movie - fbi runaways, class divides, teenage liasons in the garden, an annoying geeky brother and parents who love dancing - what more could you possibly want?! I recommend everyone watches this film.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FINALLY FOUND IT!, 22 Oct 2009
By 
E. Bishop - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR THIS ONE ON DVD FOR A WHILE, USED TO BE MY FAVOURITE FILM GROWING UP BUT NOT SEEN IT IN YEARS.
STILL A GREAT FILM WITH GOOD ACTING ALL ROUND PARTICULARLY FROM RIVER PHOENIX BUT STORY LINE WAS A LITTLE MUSHIER THAN I REMEMBERED.
WELL WORTH A GO IF YOU ARE A FAN OF ANY OF THE ACTORS
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Phoenix Coming of Age & Politics, 18 Dec 2008
By 
This review is from: Running On Empty [DVD] (DVD)
Another coming of age film staring River Pheonix. As with Little Nikita, the boy has to grow up quickly. His parents are political agitators on the run from the FBI. Normal family life is sacrificed on the parents principles, with little or no thought for their children's well being. When Pheonix falls in love he has to reveal his secret to her, gain her understanding and support to enable him to finally make his stand for what he wants, in conflict with his parents way of life. They finaly accept his decision.
Well acted, a film of it's time, demonstrating a conscience and social comentary on an era of American socio-political life.
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