Blu-ray Review – Running On Empty – Warner Archive

Running on Empty

Director: Sidney Lumet 

Screenplay: Naomi Foner

Minutes: 116

Year: 1988


Release: Warner Archive

The good news is that I really enjoyed watching this picture. The bad news is that I had completely forgotten that I watched this picture.


After antiwar activists Annie and Arthur Pope (Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch) blew up a napalm lab in 1971, they became lifelong fugitives. They and their children have stayed just one step ahead of the law, running from state to state, job to job, identity to identity. But now elder son Danny (River Phoenix) wants to stop running from a past not his. And to do so, he might never see his on-the-lam family again.

Directed by Sidney Lumet from Naomi Foner’s Golden Globe® Award-winning screenplay, this powerful, bittersweet movie also stars Martha Plimpton and Steven Hill, and earned acting honors for the emotional performances of Lahti (Los Angeles Film Critics Best Actress Award) and Phoenix (named Best Supporting Actor by the National Board of Review).

The performances by Christine Lahti and River Phoenix are remarkable. I loved every clip when they were showcased. Judd Hirsch and Martha Plimpton were also wonderful but Lahti and Phoenix are the highlights.

RUNNING ON EMPTY, River Phoenix, 1988

While I have seen the story of activist fugitives play out on any number of mystery television programs the film was still able to convince me to watch and I think it was that the focus was on the children. And they children were relatable. The film’s success hangs solely on Phoenix hold our hands into wanting him to succeed regardless of his familial needs.

Sidney Lumet, the director, knows his job and executed it well here. It is not his strongest outing but it is clear that he knows what he is doing to craft and emotionally engaging picture.

With this praise why did I forget about the film? While it is definitely engaging it is another white drama of good criminals getting away with it until the learn of the effect is has had on the children. It is another 1980s love story drama. There are more than enough and the bleed together.

Is it a good movie? Yes. Do I recommend it? Sure. Are there better options? Absolutely. Should you buy this? I cannot make that call for you.

Director: 6 – Cinematography: 6 –  Edit: 5 – Parity: 2 – Main performance: 9 – Else performance: 5 – Score: 7 – Sound: 6 – Story: 7 – Script: 6 – Effects: NA – Design: 6 – Costumes: 5 – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 5