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Running on Empty

Running on Empty (1988) USA 1988 118 minutes. Directed by Sidney Lumet.

October 31, 2015

By Sidney Lumet : in this documentary by Nancy Buirski, Running on Empty director Sidney Lumet tells about his life ans his career in his own words, illustrated by long excerpts of his movies. Among other themes, he explains the importance in theater tragedies and in his films of family relationships, conflicts with parents and especially the father. This theme is central to Running on Empty, where Daniel's father considers himself the leader of the unit, not just as a family but also a societal unit with rules he defined. The movie also explores the theme of how the choices (notably the political choices) of parents affect their children. The documentary was screened at the Deauville Film Festival in September 2015.


  • Christine Lahti - Annie Pope
  • River Phoenix - Danny Pope
  • Judd Hirsch - Arthur Pope
  • Jonas Abry - Harry Pope
  • Martha Plimpton - Lorna Phillips
  • Ed Crowley - Mr. Phillips
  • L.M. Kit Carson - Gus Winant
  • Steven Hill (I) - Mr. Patterson
  • Augusta Dabney - Mrs. Patterson
  • David Margulies - Dr. Jonah Reiff


Arthur and Annie Pope are former student radicals on the run from the FBI. They have been underground for 15 years, moving from town to town with their two children, changing identities whenever the law begins to catch up.
Their son, Danny, a gifted musician, is ready to graduate from high school. His music teacher encouraged him to apply to Julliard, but that would require Danny to produce a transcript. Thus he would have to not only leave the underground, but to separate permanently from his family.
At the same time, the boy falls in love with the music teacher's daughter, Lorna. That situation increases the tension, forcing him to choose between familial bonds and creating his own bonds. Keeping on following his parents or choosing a life of his own, a choice that is made more difficult by the fact that he'll have to renounce completely to his past if he decides so.


River received an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this sensitive performance.

The movie also was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (written by Naomi Foner).

The movie won the Golden Globe of Best Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Motion Picture. Sidney Lumet was nominated for the Golden Globe of Best Director, Christine Lahti for Best Actress, and River Phoenix for Best Supporting Actor.


On the set with Sidney Lumet

Other resources

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