Miracle Mile is a quintessential example of what cult film is. It has rabid fans, but has escaped being spoken of in the same breath as other sci-fi films from the ‘80s. It’s the second and last film that Steve De Jarnatt has directed: he went through many projects in development and ended up working exclusively in TV til he stepped away from directing. He has since turned his hand to short-story writing, but has expressed interest in maybe making another film.
The film has one of the most startling tonal switches. Charlie Brooker perfectly summed it up by saying the film “starts out as a twee rom-com in which a nerdy musician and a waitress meet and fall in love in downtown LA – until a wrong-number call informs them that a nuclear war has broken out, with Soviet missiles due to hit the city in 70 minutes.” The director Steve De Jarnatt often jokes before retrospective screenings of the film to that it’s a “nice John Hughes romantic comedy,” and the film certainly has that vibe till the tonal shift. This is intensified by the casting of Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham, who were both staples of ‘80s teen films.
Hitchcock is one of those directors that every filmmaker has in their DNA, intentionally or not, and Miracle Mile certainly owes a debt to Hitchcock. It’s about an everyman who is thrown into extraordinary circumstances, which was always Hitchcock’s template. Hitchcock’s Psycho also was one of the first films to have a radical shift in tone, with Janet Leigh being killed off in that shower scene. De Jarnatt’s first professional directing job was the pilot for the ‘80s revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and a solid remake of the iconic Man from the South.
The cast is excellent—Anthony Edwards has never been better, and there’s a strong supporting cast who are familiar from many 80s cult films. Eddie Bunker shows up using a shotgun, something he already knew how to do, of course. Mare Winningham and Edwards had natural chemistry, and have remained close ever since and ended up working together later on in ER.
De Jarnett had been planning the film for ten years, but had just seven weeks to shoot it (insane for the type of film it was). It was completed entirely at night with lots of crazy tracking shots. The traffic jam at the end, which Edwards’ character Harry is trying to cross over, is one of the great scenes of crazed desperation on film. The tension is definitely helped by the score by Tangerine Dream, one of their best film music contributions. Their Sorcerer score was often used as a temp score by ‘80s filmmakers, and De Jarnett approached them and they were really into the film so they agreed to do it.
Miracle Mile remains one of the most realistic depictions of nuclear war and the panic that would ensue. As the director always says after a screening, the threat is more prevalent now than then. It also has an extremely progressive look on the LGBTQ+ community for now nevermind the ’80s. There are two supporting characters one is a crossdresser and the other a gay guy, it’s never made an issue at all or mentioned. It would be safe to say a less talented director would probably make them conflicted or some crap like that.
The disc features two commentaries, interviews with the cast, including Edwards and Winningham, and reunion footage shot at the diner with most of the surviving supporting actors. It also includes some deleted scenes, the alternative “diamond” ending (which has its fans), an interview with Paul Haslinger of Tangerine Dream. It also has two of De Jarnett’s short films: Tarzana, a truly oddball detective story with Eddie Constantine and Timothy Carey, and a mockumentary about a technology cult.
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