In Michael Mann’s 2006 movie reboot of classic series Miami Vice, Gong Li’s drug cartel lieutenant tells the undercover cop she’s fallen in love with played by Colin Farrell: “Once I had a fortune, it said: ‘Leave now. Life is short. Time is luck’”. Fans of that film, the rest of Mann’s work or other crime thrillers about desperate men up against the clock like Good Time, Pusher and The Guilty will likely adore new Northern Irish flick Nightride which takes elements from all the above while presenting them in a way that feels new and innovative.
Set entirely over one night, the film’s opening scene sees small-time drug dealer Budge (Moe Dunford, the recent Texas Chainsaw reboot) also being told by his girlfriend Sofia (Joana Ribeiro) that “time is luck”. Indeed, he will need all the luck he can get in what is to follow. Set to lose the deposit he has put down to start a business and leave the crime game behind, Budge must raise a hefty sum by the following morning to complete the purchase. To do this, he has organised one last drug deal using money borrowed by dangerous loan shark Joe (Stephen Rea in a voice-only role). However, when Budge’s plans go sideways, he desperately works to salvage the deal, all the while trying to protect himself and his loved ones from Joe’s goons.
Nightride takes place in real-time, with its action mostly confined to the car from which Budge talks with his scheme’s various stakeholders through a hands-free phone system. While this is not hugely unique in itself, what separates the feature from many other one-location films or movies made to look as if rendered in an unbroken shot is that it actually consists of just one nearly 95-minute-long single take (other recent cinematic examples of this include Boiling Point and Victoria). Speaking about the oner, director Stephen Fingleton – who previously made the excellent if completely different in tone post-apocalyptic sci-fi The Survivalist – said:
“We rehearsed as a crew for one week for eleven hours a day. We went through the film in chronological order, breaking the script down into scenes, then practicing the bridge between scenes, then rehearsing chunks of the film. We did a dress rehearsal, took a day off, then we shot the film in six takes over six nights.”
Not just a gimmick to separate Nightride from its contemporaries, the single-take approach makes the film feel more visceral. Sure, Ben Conway’s script would always be tense. It gives Budge multiple obstacles and a limited time to overcome them, all the while doing a solid job approximating the type of hard-boiled poeticism that made Michael Mann famous. However, it’s the lack of cuts in the filmmaking that both lends the movie an added realism – as moments of mundanity that typically would be scrapped are captured – and makes it at times nerve-wracking – trapping viewers with Budge as he is forced to make life-and-death decisions.
Perhaps subconsciously adding to tension is watching star Dunford somehow juggle driving, delivering dialogue, hitting all his marks and at one point improvising as Budge is pulled over by real police officers (whose faces are pixelated and voices are dubbed). Yet, despite all this, the actor never missteps and manages to make audiences care about Budge. Without his typical facial hair and styled in a turtleneck, Dunford evokes a ‘70s James Caan or Steve McQueen-esque vibe. Like them, he can bring a quiet, tough-guy charisma, while at the same time subtly revealing a deeper, more emotional side to his character over the movie’s runtime. Regarding the latter, Nightride’s cathartic finale foregrounding Budge and Sofia’s relationship would not be so effective were it not for the fact that Dunford makes us believe in the couple’s love for one another.
Like Dunford, the rest of Nightride’s filmmaking crew does great work despite the challenges of the feature’s single-take approach. Shot in Belfast during Covid lockdown, the city lit mostly by streetlights looks gorgeous in an unvarnished way, lending the movie an added atmosphere. The film is stylishly shot too, particularly the way the camera will expressively swirl during moments of high emotion, like the scene where Budge is forced by Joe to attack someone at their home or in the thriller’s final moments.
Putting aside the unique way it was made, it must be noted that Nightride does not tell an original or deep story. If it ever stumbles, it’s when the references to the movies to which its paying homage become too explicit. For instance, cribbing “Time is luck” from Miami Vice is fine. Having a supporting character be working on a thesis called “Fate, transience and the lonely individual: the films of Michael Mann” is too much (as much as I’d like to read it).
That said, while Nightride’s reverence for past thrillers leaves it feeling less like its own entity than it could be, how it was made and the craft on display at least makes it feel fresh and stand out in a packed genre. In an era of mostly franchises and superheroes, this is a movie for those always on the hunt to watch something with the energy of an old-school crime flick. If cinephiles in this sub-category check out Nightride, this time they will be in luck.