Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
“Miracle Mile” has the logic of one of those nightmares in which you’re sure something is terrible, hopeless and dangerous, but you can’t get anyone to listen to you. Besides, you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be mistaken. The film begins as a low-key, boy-meets-girl story, and then a telephone is answered by the wrong person and everything goes horribly wrong. Much of the movie’s diabolical effectiveness comes from the fact that it never reveals, until the very end, whether the nightmare is real, or only some sort of tragic misunderstanding.
The opening scenes are sunny and sweet. Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) are two young people in Los Angeles who have what the movies like to call a Meet Cute: They like each other’s looks, and begin to talk, and it’s love at first sight, and so Harry makes a date to pick up Julie after she gets off work at the all-night coffee shop where she’s a waitress. So far, so good, but then Harry oversleeps and wakes up in the middle of the night, confused and befuddled, and races down to the coffee shop, only to find that Julie has already left for home.
That’s when the pay telephone rings in the booth outside the restaurant. Harry answers it and hears some kind of panicky warning that he can barely understand. It’s something about how nuclear missiles have been launched, and it’s too late to recall them, and the Russians are involved, and the irrevocable events leading up to World War III have been set into motion. The guy on the other end of the line doesn’t know who he’s talking to; he thinks he called his father and doesn’t know he got the wrong number. Then there’s the sound of gunfire, and Harry is told by a new voice to ignore everything he just heard.
Well, what did he hear? Was it a genuine call or some sort of a practical joke. Did the guy on the other end really know what he was talking about? Or did Harry perhaps get everything out of context and misunderstand it? This is the device through which the movie generates its suspense; we can never be sure that telephone call was genuine.