Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 35th anniversary screening of the potent Oscar-nominated drama Running on Empty, written by Naomi Foner and directed by Sidney Lumet in one of his late-career highlights. Christine Lahti, who was named best actress of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for her performance, Judd Hirsch, River Phoenix, and Martha Plimpton star in one of the few movies to examine the consequences of the revolutionary movements that swept America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The film earned two Oscar nominations in 1988, for Foner’s original screenplay and for Phoenix as Best Supporting actor. We’ll screen Running on Empty at the Royal on October 24 at 7 pm with Ms. Lahti as our special guest.
Lahti and Hirsch play a married couple who were part of a 1960s revolutionary group, probably modeled on the Weather Underground, who participated in the bombing of a napalm laboratory that resulted in the serious injury of a janitor who was not supposed to be on the premises. Since then, they and their two sons have been on the run from the FBI, constantly changing their identities and moving when the authorities seemed close to locating them. An added complication arises when their teenage son, played by Phoenix, begins to demonstrate extraordinary gifts as a pianist, and the parents realize that their unsettled lives could hinder the development of his talent. At the same time, Phoenix falls in love with the daughter (Plimpton) of his music teacher and feels compelled to reveal his true identity to her.
Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict), who received an honorary Oscar late in his life, brought his characteristic dramatic vigor and emotional intensity to the film. A highlight is the meeting between Lahti and her long estranged father, played by Steven Hill, that is one of the most wrenching scenes in any film of the period. Most critics recognized the film’s achievements. Roger Ebert called it “one of the best films of the year,” and Newsweek’s David Ansen called it “emotionally overpowering.” Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Sophisticated, uncompromising and refreshingly original, it is one of those rare films which is likely to mean as much to teens as it does to their parents.”
Christine Lahti made her film debut opposite Al Pacino in 1979 in …And Justice for All. She went on to co-star in Whose Life Is It Anyway? opposite Richard Dreyfuss, The Doctor with William Hurt, Just Between Friends with Mary Tyler Moore, Bill Forsyth’s Housekeeping, and, more recently, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks. She earned an Oscar nomination when she co-starred with Goldie Hawn in Swing Shift. Later she won an Oscar for a live action short film that she directed, Lieberman in Love, in 1995. Lahti won an Emmy for her starring role in the hit TV series, Chicago Hope, and also had a recurring role in Law and Order SVU. In 2001 she directed her first feature, My First Mister, starring Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski.
Judd Hirsch has received two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor—for the Oscar-winning best picture of 1980, Ordinary People, and for his performance just last year in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed memory piece, The Fabelmans. He also won two Emmy Awards for his performance in the critically acclaimed and immensely popular TV show of the late 1970s, Taxi. Among his other notable feature film credits are Independence Day, A Beautiful Mind, The Meyerowitz Stories, and Uncut Gems. Hirsch co-starred in several other TV series—Dear John, Damages, Superior Donuts, and The Goldbergs.