While Judgment Night starts out like any other nineties crime thriller, it soon turns into something entirely else. A true masterpiece of suspense, action, and engaging storytelling. Trust me, after the first fifteen minutes things start to get better and better. This is one of those movies that slipped under the radar, mostly due to the massive output of similar movies released on VHS. I have to admit that I thought this is going to be just your average thriller with a couple of familiar faces. This is the reason why I decided to check it out, drawn by the nostalgia and the straightforward approach. I expected nothing and was eager to let the movie take me away into the night. And take me it did.
Judgment Night achieved the perfect balance between reality and engaging storytelling. It builds its characters carefully and after a while, you feel like you know them. Hell, you might be even commenting this guy did exactly what my friend Bill would do and things like that. This makes you empathize with them and raises the stakes even higher. You want to see them succeed and you want them all to survive. However, we all know that’s not going to be the case. You also keep thinking about what would you do if you found yourself in a similar situation. The camera work along with editing is simply mesmerizing. Stephen Hopkins really did wonders here, especially in closed environments.
Tonight is a big night for Frank Wyatt and his friends. They’re going to a boxing match, looking to have some fun along the way. Frank, as the only married guy out of four of them, is also looking to spend some time bonding and catching up. However, they soon get into a traffic jam, dangerously close to the start of the match. This is when Ray suggests they take a shortcut that will save them a lot of time. And this is where things start going wrong for them.
And while the entire cast is pretty solid, I have to single out Denis Leary. His performance here gave the movie the necessary touch of evil it needed. The exchange between him and Jeremy Piven on the rooftop will stay with you for a long time. And this is the thing about this movie. It plays more like a horror than a thriller or an action movie. Actually, most of the funny lines in the movie were recorded after the production was over by the studios. They felt that the tone is too dark and wanted something more breezy. Not to mention how grimy and disturbing the original script was. However, these changes are not unusual and they just come with the territory.
Once Judgment Night starts rolling it simply doesn’t stop. We’re taken on this high-octane chase through the bad part of town that seems like it’s straight from a post-apocalyptic movie. Actually, when they were filming a scene on the rooftop, in the projects, the crew heard a loud bang. After coming down they discovered a dead body of a young man killed in a gang initiation. The army was called in to secure the shoot after that incident. It sadly proves just how close to reality they came with their story. It’s full of nineties nihilism putting a dark spin on the “one wild night” concept. And yes, there are a couple of contrived developments but the entertainment factor is so high, I’m willing to look past them. I hope you will too.
Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies I recommend you check out Trespass, Run, ’71 and still excellent Deliverance from 1972. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention The Night Before starring Keanu Reeves. I know it’s a comedy but it has almost the same setting, capitalizing on those suburbia fears.
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Writer: Lewis Colick, Jere Cunningham
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Denis Leary, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff, Jeremy Piven, Peter Greene, Erik Schrody
Fun Facts: Emilio Estevez asked for and received whopping $4 million to star in the film. He was the only guy willing to jump into production right away which was a priority as the movie would be canceled otherwise.