Leaving behind his criminal exploits and opening a mechanic shop with his best friend, a drug dealer (Moe Dunford) makes one final deal to get himself clear and set himself up. However, when a local mobster (Stephen Rea) gets involved after the deal goes sour, it's a race against time to stay alive and keep himself free...
As much as the likes of 'Kin' and 'Love/Hate' have tried to emulate slick crime thrillers like 'Sicario' and 'Traffic' and marry them with an Irish perspective, the effects have been relatively varied at best. 'Nightride' is unambiguously giving itself over to the work of Michael Mann, but what's interesting is that it's taking a somewhat unique tack with it.
So often when you think of Michael Mann-influenced movies, such as forgettable Brit thriller 'Welcome To The Punch' with James McAvoy and Mark Strong, you think of austere and pristine visuals, lots of blue lighting, hardened criminals growling about a score or a takedown, loud gunfights, and synth music. In 'Nightride', writer Ben Conway and director Stephen Fingleton have instead opted to take on the romanticism in the crime auteur's work. After all, 'Heat' culminates with a murdering bank robber leaving behind his one true love to flee into the night, after he had broken his code of personal solitude that defined his life. 'Miami Vice', 'Thief', 'Public Enemies', even 'Collateral' to a lesser degree - Mann's work has always been about characters who exist in dangerous, outlaw worlds and are confronted with change borne out of love and romance. That's 'Nightride' in a nutshell.
For 90-odd minutes, it's Moe Dunford driving around Belfast, trying to piece together a deal gone wrong and keeping his love interest and his civilian friend out of harm's way. The execution is rough and ready; there's even a moment when an unscripted interaction with the real-life PSNI pauses the story. Yet, in spite of the limitations of the budget, the direction by Stephen Fingleton keeps you riveted. The dialogue is more than clunky in parts, and is given over to one too many cliches and tropes, yet Dunford's commitment helps to smooth them out. Likewise, when Gerard Jordan's enforcer turns up, you really get a sense of the sinister world that's just out of the camera's view that Dunford is trying to escape.
As much as the one-take concept tries to keep the story focused and lean, 'Nightride' does begin to run out of fuel at certain points in the story, not to mention some coincidences being all too convenient and far too simple for something that's trying to homage sprawling crime epics. There's also the issue of how much it borrows from other movies and utilises tropes and archetypes. How much of that is honouring its influences, and how much of it is taking something that's worked previously than coming up with something original? All that said, 'Nightride' knows that the action is the juice, and never lets the audience sit too long or get too comfortable. It's a compelling, sharply-made thriller that uses its limitations to its advantage as much as possible and brings together a committed performance by Moe Dunford, some great night-time cinematography, and a witty sense of humour.