Miracle Mile is One of the Best Movies You’ve Never Seen
So, I missed the boat last week when it came to comic reviews, so I’m gonna be making it up with a review for a movie I watched just last night and that not a lot of people have talked much about.
Released in 1988, Miracle Mile is the brainchild of one Steve De Jarnatt, and it has a legendarily troubled production history. It got stuck in limbo over at Warner Brothers for a couple of years before Jarnatt bought it back, no one wanted to produce it, at one point it was going to be adapted into “Twilight Zone: The Movie” and, by the end, he had to shoot the sucker in 8 weeks with 3.7 million dollars. This movie’s title is surprisingly prescient considering it’s a miracle that it got made, much less that it turned out as amazing as it is.
The “problem” I face when talking about Miracle Mile is that its main conceit depends upon a colossal shift in tone and genre about 20 minutes in, so if you want to go in completely unspoiled (which is going to be difficult because it’s not exactly a twist), know that this is a fantastic movie that is equal parts romantic and bleak.
Now that that’s settled, Miracle Mile is about a trombone player named Harry Washello who falls deeply in with a woman named Julie and plans to go on a date with her that very night, after she finishes working in a diner. Unfortunately, he oversleeps and ends up getting to the diner a few hours late and tries to find out what her phone number so he can try and profusely apologize. So far, so good, an ok pitch for an ok romantic movie.
Except, after Harry leaves a message on Julie’s answering machine, the phone booth he called from starts ringing. He picks up and on the other side, he hears a distraught man who, having dialed the wrong number, ends up revealing that he works for the U.S. Government, that the Nukes have been launched and that they can expect retaliation in about an hour or so. From here the movie turns into an intense and bleak thriller (that kind of happens in real-time) about the slow collapse of everything as the realization of what’s about to happen slowly reaches everyone.
Bleakness in movies is very hard to achieve. On one hand, there are movies with sad endings, but a lot of them aren’t really “earned” and some have at least a bit of a happy intonation or a little “maybe it’s not all bad” vibe. On the other, there are movies that are nonstop depress fests, filled with consistent misery and overwhelming depression so that you feel bad. What I love about Miracle Mile is that it finds just the right measure between the two.
Like I said the first twenty minutes of the movie are a cute and fun romantic movie which takes itself at a completely normal pace and isn’t exactly filled with setup or big “This is gonna be super important later” moments. Then after Harry gets the call begins, for both the audience and the characters in the movie, that slow descent into anarchy. It’s very effective as well because even though you know that a bomb is going to drop after the phone call, there’s this weird instinct of “Well, maybe it won’t happen” but as time goes by and things become slowly more desperate, the panic starts settling in. It’s something that’s a little hard to explain, but when you watch it you progressively feel like “It’s all falling down and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do to stop it.” The movie came out in 88, about a year before the end of the Cold War, but considering how the world is back to being on fire that dread is still very present.
My problem now is that I want to just keep talking about the little things in the movie. The side characters, the little moments, the lines of dialogue that I really enjoyed. Miracle Mile is an easy enough movie to understand, but it’s that sweet, sweet pacing and those tiny things that I don’t want to spoil that make this such a great movie. Although I will say that the award for coolest bit in the movie has to go to the Cop burning. Beyond being a great metaphor for the stupidity of nuclear conflict, it looks awesome and, conceptually, it’s so cool.
Beyond the great script, I also have to complement the amazing directing. There aren’t any of those cool camera tricks we see nowadays, but there’s just a great sense of where to place the camera, where to cut, what to show and especially lighting. You could tell this was a passion project and you can almost see the exact places where Jarnatt said “I want it to look like this”.
The only real complaint I can think of is that most people believe Harry’s story almost immediately, which feels a little unrealistic, although I wasn’t alive at that time so it might have been more believable that the bombs were gonna start flying at any second in the 80s.
Apart from that, Miracle Mile is a great movie and I’ve barely scratched at the surface of why. From its sense of dread, to its simple directing, to great performances that I didn’t even mention, there is too much good stuff to mention. It’s an underrated gem if there ever was one and I’m telling you to go watch it now.