Leaving behind his criminal exploits and opening a mechanic shop with his best friend, a drug dealer (Moe Dunford) makes one last deal to break free and settle down. However, when a local gangster (Stephen Rea) gets involved after the case goes sour, it’s a race against time to stay alive and keep himself free…
As much as “Kin” and “Love/Hate” tried to emulate slick crime thrillers like “Sicario” and “Traffic” and marry them with an Irish perspective, the effects were relatively varied at best. ‘Nightride’ unambiguously surrenders to the work of Michael Mann, but what’s interesting is that it takes a somewhat unique approach.
So often when you think of films influenced by Michael Mann, like the forgettable British thriller ‘Welcome to Punch‘ starring James McAvoy and Mark Strong, you think stark, pristine visuals, lots of blue lighting, hardened criminals snarling about a score or takedown, loud gunfights and synth music. In “Nightride,” writer Ben Conway and director Stephen Fingleton chose to tackle the romanticism of the crime perpetrator’s work instead. After all, “Heat” culminates with a murderous bank robber leaving behind his one true love to flee into the night, having broken his life-defining code of personal loneliness. “Miami Vice”, “Thief”, “Public Enemies”, even “Collateral” to a lesser extent – Mann’s work has always focused on characters who exist in dangerous and outlaw worlds and face changes born of love and romance. It’s ‘Nightride’ in a nutshell.
For around 90 minutes, it’s Moe Dunford driving around Belfast, trying to piece together a deal gone wrong and keeping his love interest and civilian friend out of harm’s way. The execution is rough and ready; there’s even a moment where an unscripted interaction with the actual PSNI interrupts the story. However, despite the limits of the budget, the realization of Stephen Fingleton keeps you in suspense. The dialogue is beyond clunky in parts and delivered to too many cliches and tropes, but Dunford’s engagement helps smooth them out. Likewise, when Gerard Jordan’s enforcer shows up, you really get a sense of the sinister world that’s just out of sight of the camera that Dunford is trying to escape.
As much as the one-take concept tries to keep the story focused and lean, ‘Nightride’ starts to run out of fuel at certain points in the story, not to mention certain coincidences being too convenient and far too simple for something that is trying to pay homage to sprawling crime epics. There’s also the question of how much it borrows from other films and uses tropes and archetypes. How much does he honor his influences and how much does he take something that has worked before rather than come up with something original? That said, “Nightride” knows the action is the juice, and never lets the audience sit too long or get too comfortable. It’s a gripping, well-made thriller that uses its limitations as much as possible to its advantage and brings together an engaged performance from Moe Dunford, excellent nighttime cinematography, and a witty sense of humor.