What makes Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty one of the best films of the 1980s can be summed up in two ideas: a beautifully crafted screenplay and amazing performances. Naomi Foner (that’d be Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s mother) paints a painful portrait of a family on the run from the law and their need to reconnect with, not only each other, but also those outside their family. In addition, we have remarkable performances from not just the film’s lead actors but the “minor” ones as well. River Phoenix (in an Oscar-nominated role) is wonderful as the eldest son who wants to stop running, but also does not want to disappoint his father (Judd Hirsch). He shares tremendous chemistry with on and off-screen girlfriend, Martha Plimpton (an actress who never got enough credit for her work) and it is a damn shame that Phoenix’s life was cut short and we never got to see the full extent of his capabilities as an actor (save his later work in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho). But the true gem is Christine Lahti. One need only look at the restaurant scene between her character and her estranged father (Steven Hill, a powerful presence, despite his limited screen time). An emotional seven minutes that never comes close to being overtly maudlin. The pain is real and like the punch-you-in-the-gut ending, it is the honest portrayal of family that makes it one hell of a film.