I really am getting to the point know where a lot of the 1988 films that I only have the more serious films left to pick out of my TBT jar. Mississippi Burning, Cinema Paradiso, Colors, Gorillas in the Mist are films I am sure will be worth watching but I’ve kind of got used to watching the sillier ones. I normally end up watching these films on my day off when I’m not really in the mood for an intense 2 hour plus watching experience. I’ve come to enjoy the fact that there are so many films from the 80s that don’t make it too far past the 90 minute mark and many that don’t even make it that far. And, really, that’s a good thing. I’m not suggesting that all films need to be shorter but I’m a busy girl. Okay, nobody believes that. I’m a lazy girl. I just need highly concentrated bursts of cinema. Preferably with dodgy special effects or weird narratives. Oh, and a whole bunch of actors who make me sit there with my head to one side thinking ‘where do I know them from’. I can’t even start to work out how much of this film I spent madly searching IMDb to find the movies I’d seen certain people in.
Way back in 2003 Mark Owen, in his post-Take That career, released a single called ‘Four Minute Warning’. It’s a ridiculous and not very good song that is based around the public alert system that the government set up during the Cold War. In the song, Mark wastes his four minutes singing about everyone else and the songs ends with him dying alone. It’s cheery and, despite how awful it is, I weirdly love it. I raise this point simply because the whole point of this week’s TBT film asks the question “what would you do if you knew nuclear war was about to break out?” Thankfully, the people in Miracle Mile have a good 70 minutes thanks to an accidental wrong number.
Miracle Mile takes place over the duration of one day and, to appropriate Jack Bauer for second, most of the events occur in real-time. It all starts when Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) meet at the La Brea Tar Pits and magically fall instantly in love. They spend the day together, he meets her grandparents, and they arrange to make a date after her night shift. Unfortunately, Harry is late for the date after the electricity in his hotel goes off. Still, he decides that being 3.5 hours late shouldn’t stop him turning up at the meeting point anyway. Whilst he waits at the diner, Harry answers a telephone call made by a scared young man hoping to warn his father of an impending nuclear attack. Terrified of this uncorroborated information, Harry tries to warn the other diners who quickly start trying to escape. However, he isn’t willing to go anywhere without Julie.
Throughout the narrative, tension is constantly building in Miracle Mile because the audience is never fully sure if the threat is genuine. The more people who find out about the incoming missiles the more chaotic LA gets. Harry is constantly worried that he has incited people to riot based on a rumour. People end up dead and doing illegal things and he feels guilt about that. But, you know, he met a woman a few hours ago so who gives a shit? The romance and the thriller aspects of this film play out brilliantly and weirdly next to each other. As the people of LA are firing guns at each other for the tiniest thing, Harry and Juliet are having softly lit, romantic times in a lift. It feels very 80s and outrageous. It’s perfect.
I do get the sense that, in terms of story, there wasn’t much there to fill the 70 minutes to ensure the tension would build. As such, there are plenty of twists and turns that don’t really add anything or make sense. Characters turn up and disappear never to be seen again. There are mad dashes to find necessary things for the escape. Juliet inevitably wanders off as often as possible meaning Harry has to save her. It all feels a bit repetitive at times. I can’t help but feel that there would be more subtle ways to keep the tension up but, then again, this film isn’t really aiming for subtle.
Ultimately, this film is absurd, nonsensical, but entertaining. It speaks of a genuine fear that people faced around that time and it does a pretty good job of making it work. It leads the audience down a certain path and isn’t afraid to pull the rug out from underneath them whenever it can. Despite the slightly sickening romance plot, this is a rose-tinted look at what would have happened had nuclear war broken out. The two leads, though not the most charismatic, both do a decent job of leading everything. You could easily argue that two bigger names might have done better with the material but who can say. Miracle Mile certainly beats Mark Owen any day.