One of Sidney Lumet’s most mercurial films, Running on Empty centres on a countercultural couple, Annie and Arthur Pope, played by Christine Lahti and Judge Reinhold, who’ve been on the run ever since they blew up a napalm factory in 1971. In the process, they’ve managed to raise two sons, Danny and Harry, played by River Phoenix and Jonas Abry, while keeping one step ahead of the law. At one level, the film’s generated by what happens when they reach a town that threatens to hold them down, break their momentum. Yet it’s also buoyed up and propelled by the fact that this could never really happen, if only because Lumet chooses to shoot Annie and Arthur as environmentalists more than political outcasts, which isn’t to say that their politics are displaced or dismissed, but that they balloon out into an activist ambience that’s as amorphous as it is inescapable. Everything they touch turns into something they’re fighting for, especially “the heartland of the nation, the small communities,” which unfold before their windscreen with a kind of imminent nostalgia, an environmentalist prescience that their time may be limited. If anything does have the power to slacken Annie and Arthur's movement, it’s the janitor they accidentally blinded during the napalm explosion, who haunts every shot with all the eyes that will never see it, allowing Lumet to showcase his skills as a location director more than any of his films since Prince of the City. Of course, this time around, he’s jettisoned from his perennial New York backdrop, which bookends the narrative, and lurks around the fringes as a brooding, unforgettable possibility. But that’s also what allows him to generate such a free-floating luminosity of place, cushioning his mise-en-scene in escalating hush until it’s more like a silent movie, a subterranean language of gestures and postures. As the crises build, everyone seems to have less and less to say, drawing us into the reflexive softness of a family whose lives have just got quieter and quieter, further and further from all but the most untravelled highways and byways of Main Street U.S.A. For them, radicalism is an art of stasis, a study in stillness – the stillness you can only distill from the most rigorous momentum – as they move with the eye of the storm, seeking out the few safe harbours where they can still listen to America. And Lumet moves with them, wrapping us deep in the woods, as if searching for the romantic roots of civil disobedience, lingering hearthside confidences, parlor dreams of revolution that his camera remakes in its own transcendental image.