Review: Nightride



Time for a drive.

Belfast dealer Budge (Moe Dunford) is desperate to get out of the game, and begin a new legitimate life with his partner Sofia (Joana Ribeiro). In order to do so he will need to pull off the deal of a lifetime, and all in the space of 90 minutes, as he races around the city trying to purchase and then offload an enormous supply of heroin before his debt to ruthless loan shark Joe “the Nut” (Stephen Rea) gets called in.

For a while Nightride was really turning me off. There’s a scene towards the beginning where it seemed as if director Stephen Fingleton and writer Ben Conway were essentially telling the audience “This is the film we are aping”, and that film was Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (and Thief and Collateral and so on and so forth), with Budge and another character waxing lyrical about the romance of the criminal with honour trying to get out of the life. It left a very bad taste in the mouth, as did the numerous other nods to Mann’s work (the word “collateral” is used so much here one feels it has to be an intentional and repeated nod): from the off it very much seemed as if Nightride didn’t have any kind of confidence in itself, and needed to latch on to something else in the eyes of the audience.

But as time went on, and Nightride began to really get into the crux of its premise – yet another faux one-shotter, this time based entirely around a heroin buy-and-sell operation – I began to think a bit better of it. It’s no Thief, or Heat, or whatever other Mann film Fingleton and Conway really love, but it has quality. Essentially just a series of phone calls between Budge and the various people in his life – his not too amazingly trustworthy crew, his family, his business partners legitimate and illegitimate – as he drives around Belfast at night, it manages to create a very excellent sense of tension throughout, as Budge deals with a succession of crises and attempts to make good on the repeated phrase of “Time is luck” (also from a Mann film). In this Nightride will probably draw more comparisons to the likes of Locke than it would to Boiling Point or other would-be one-shotters, and I would say that it is a case where the gimmick serves the story quite well, putting the audience more directly into the shoes of Budge and allowing us the chance to fully experience the sort of ticking clocks he has to deal with (leaving aside the idea that people can apparently drive across Belfast in five or so minutes).

Dunford isn’t the absolute best choice for the lead role, coming off as too dead behind in the eyes in terms of his delivery too much of the time (I know they’re going for cool, calm and collected, but Budge takes this to too much of an extreme), but it’s in the later half of the production that he shines the brightest, when things have really gone wrong with his drug deal and his various options are narrowing significantly. It would be easy to dismiss Budge as just a drug dealer of above-average intelligence, but the script does a decent job of making him relatable and likable: in his hopes and dreams of opening a legitimate business, in the way he interacts with young relative “Cuz” (Ellie O’Halloran) and in his loyalty to Sofia.

Much of the cast are carrying out only voice work, most notably Stephen Rea as the menacing loan shark that Budge has borrowed money off of, and they do good work. It’s very easy to phone it in (ha!) with such things, but Rea is just the most well known of a cast that manages to make the most of the avenue. There’s an obvious disconnect between viewer and character when all they are is a voice, but in the case of Joe “the Nut”, that’s actually a huge help, since Rea could never look as scary as he sounds.

Budge’s adventure is shot in a basic manner, with the majority of the film’s cinematography consisting of a fixed camera within Budge’s car as we watch him drive and talk. Only in a few other instances do things get more dynamic, most notably in a sequence where Budge is called upon to undertake some impromptu home invasion, which we see entirely from the outside of the home in question. Other than that it is the nighttime landscape of Belfast, most importantly its docklands, that are the star, providing an able backdrop. It’s in that last part that it most imitates Mann’s visual style, with Nightride looking very much like Collateral, with Dunford in the place of Jamie Foxx. As an example of what can be done with limitations in cameras and budget, Nightride achieves high marks.

In terms of its story, its characters, large parts of its script and its themes, there isn’t a great deal notable about Nightride really. It takes a little while to get going, and the lead isn’t entirely up to the task that is appointed to him. But despite all of this, I still ended up enjoying it: its pacing, its sense of tension, its delivery of Belfast at night, and the work of the voice cast that we only ever met from one side of a phone. One-shotters, faux or otherwise, really do seem to be becoming the order of the day, and much of that probably has to be laid at the feet of 1917. As long as they maintain this level of quality, it is no bad thing just yet. Recommended.

(All images are copyright of Pulsar Content).

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