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Running on Empty

102 customer reviews

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(Mar 30, 1999)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Two fugitive radicals must face the painful consequences of their teenage son striking out on his own. Year: 1988 Director: Sidney Lumet Starring: Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, Judd Hirsch, Martha Plimpton

It's difficult to watch this involving family drama and not end up mad at River Phoenix. He was such an incredibly talented, believable, available actor that it makes you mad at him for leaving us so soon. He's particularly good here as Danny, a talented musician and the eldest son of a couple of former war protestors (Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch). Their bombing of a napalm plant during the Vietnam War makes their small, nuclear family act as fugitives, never letting themselves settle down, never leaving traces, one step ahead of the law. This works for the splinter group of rebels until Danny meets a teacher who believes in his talent, and meets the teacher's daughter, Lorna (played by Martha Plimpton). Danny's love for Lorna and his aspirations to attend Juilliard put the family in jeopardy of finally being tracked down. It's saying something that in this impressive ensemble cast, ably directed by Sidney Lumet, Phoenix sticks out. He was an actor whose tank never would have run out. --Keith Simanton

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: River Phoenix, Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch, Jonas Abry, Martha Plimpton
  • Directors: Sidney Lumet
  • Writers: Naomi Foner
  • Producers: Amy Robinson, Burtt Harris, Griffin Dunne, Naomi Foner
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Full Screen, HiFi Sound, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: March 30, 1999
  • Run Time: 116 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6305308853
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,431 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Running on Empty" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 2003
Format: DVD
This is doubtlessly one of the most underrated movies out there. The entire cast is just flawless. I watch this DVD and find myself truly saddened that such a talent as River Phoenix was so needlessly lost. Phoenix earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his role as Danny Pope, the undisputable emotional center of this movie. His performance was superlative. To me, this is one of the two or three highest points of Phoenix's all-too-short career; probably the top of the list, actually, in my opinion. His interplay with Judd Hirsch, the piano scene with Christine Lahti, the amazing chemistry with Martha Plimpton -- it really is just spellbinding. Christine Lahti is completely incredible as Annie Pope and the restaurant scene with her father is just devastating. I can't think of another word. Every time I watch it, I'm almost overwhelmed. Like many other reviewers, I applaud the absolutely perfect inclusion of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" into the movie -- it just flat-out worked. Honestly, if you haven't seen this movie, treat yourself. It's a masterpiece.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Sagan on August 13, 2005
Format: DVD
I recently watched this film again, as I do periodically, and thought I'd comment. Several reviewers have pointed out that although the film is uniformly excellent, the DVD presentation is lacking, and I am of mixed feelings on that point. While it's true that the DVD doesn't offer more than the film, it's a film of such understated perfection and poignant brilliance that I wonder if we have the right to demand more. Sure, a director's or screenwriter's commentary track, or even a quick comparison of this to Lumet's earlier and similarly-themed Daniel, would be nice, but sometimes a movie is so good it doesn't need help.

I saw this movie on HBO as a kid, probably soon after it came out. I feel certain that I must have seen it several times, but although I vaguely recalled liking it immensely, I went for some years without thinking of it much. Then I went on a huge Sidney Lumet kick in 1997/1998 (owing to his compelling appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio and his intriguing book) and rediscovered this. To my utter astonishment, I began to see that the film had transformed me when I saw it as a kid, and it would be months before I unraveled all its subconscious shaping of my pysche.

This is a gorgeous, unflinching and aching film about tough choices and living with consequences, and I'm glad to say that despite numerous opportunities, it never once sinks into the chasm of Hollywoodisms that have capsized most films that even attempt something like this. It manages constantly to be honest and to present the gray areas of its characters, rather than letting them fit into simple archetypes of hero/protagonist, etc. I like that, because I don't find it helpful to understand the world in black and white, and clearly Lumet doesn't either.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Kyle Tolle on December 16, 2003
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Arthur and Annie Pope along with their two sons, Danny and Harry, have been on the run and hiding from the law for years. This stems from the parents staging a bomb attack on a Napalm factory in their protest of the Vietnam War coupled with a factory worker getting seriously injured in the process. Always on the move, changing identities, and having no semblance of stability in their lives, the Popes gradually become weary of the chase and are forced to question their beliefs on family unity, which is paramount to them. Settling in New Jersey after yet another close call with authorities, Annie Pope enrolls her son in a local high school where his talent for playing the piano is quickly noticed and appreciated by his music teacher. So much so that arrangements are put into motion for Danny to attend the Julliard School of Music on a scholarship. Arthur and Annie Pope, kept out of the loop, eventually learn of these plans plus Danny's evolving relationship with his music teacher's daughter and his fervent desire to act on the scholarship. The Pope family is forced to examine their lives, their beliefs, and their convictions regarding the impending consequences of finally breaking the family circle. This leads up to a very moving and poignant climax in the movie that is nothing short of outstanding.
As many reviewers have already stated, the quality of the acting in this movie is absolutely stellar. Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch, River Phoenix, and Martha Plimpton render such heartfelt performances that they appear to be a real family in the real world. Although River Phoenix was nominated for an Oscar (rightly so and he was a phenomenal talent), everyone mentioned above deserved a nomination probably just as much.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Widowedwalker on February 15, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This DVD is only available now in 1.33 full-screen. I've read that this actually gives you MORE visual data than the theatrical version (as the film was supposedly originally shot in full-screen and then had the top and bottom of the screen lopped-off in theatrical rectangular shape -- and was presumably shot with this intention. And as such, the full-screen version is as good or better than what we'd get from a widescreen format.)

Turns out that all of the above is not true. The full-screen version is in fact Uber-cropped.

At any rate, despite the miscasting of Judd Hirsch as the ex-'60s-radical-turned-father, the movie itself is one of those rarefied things that's so good it tends to escape hype --- or even adequate attention. The drama is understated and River Phoenix is as gulp-inducing as ever.

Sad, sad, sad...
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