Dylan Baker stars in this short thriller now available on Amazon Prime
As much as I love soaking in a solid epic, there’s something to be said for a short runtime. We celebrate David Lean and Cecil B. Demille, but I have equal respect for masters like Joseph H. Lewis; several of whose films (including My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark The Night) clocked in a little over an hour.
At just 42 minutes, political action thriller Nightfire is short by even Lewis’s standards. Its runtime is an awkward one — too long for a short, and too short for a feature — approximately an hour in broadcast television time.
While on an intel-gathering mission in Russia, a pair of American operatives (Lorenzo Pisoni and Greg Hadley) encounter and rescue a political prisoner (Dylan Baker), whom they find locked in a cage.
Their mission is set against a backdrop of a political power play in which the US is moving to take control of the Ukraine, ostensibly to provide aid but in fact a manipulation to steal their resources. Things heat up when Agent Carter (Pisoni) questions his superiors’ motives; meanwhile the gentle linguistics professor they’ve rescued turns out be not quite who we’ve been led to believe.
Nightfire began life as a student film, which explains both its short runtime and why it’s only now being released, 5 years after it was made. Shot in Verona, Italy, the film makes for a short but well-made, solidly acted espionage thriller with action scenes that would look right at home in bigger budget Hollywood production. Baker (the Spider-Man series, Trick ‘r Treat) is the best known actor and is pretty convincing playing an Italian character, but the entire cast is actually very solid.
I find the film’s unusual runtime particularly interesting; because of its structure, it feels a bit like an introductory pilot episode for a TV series that never got picked up. The brisk pace ensures that the plot is always hurtling forward; no fat on these bones. Feature films under 70 minutes aren’t historically commercially viable, but in the world of subscription-based streaming, “long shorts” could prove an interesting emerging market. In the interest of progress, let’s boldly coin the term.
Long shorts (say, approx 35–60 minutes) are hereafter to be known as “cargo shorts”.