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NIGHTRIDE: 3 ½ STARS. “calm exterior hides an internal ocean of emotion.”

Director Stephen Fingleton was so committed to shooting “Nightride,” a new crime thriller now on VOD, in one long uninterrupted take, that when some real-life police officers pulled over the lead actor’s car mid-film, he kept the camera rolling, improvised, and kept the scene in the film.

Set on the mean streets of Belfast, the movie focusses on small time drug dealer Budge (Moe Dunford). He wants to buy an autobody shop and go straight. “You’ve always known what I do,” Budge tells his co-investor Graham, “and I’m done doing it after tonight.”

Trouble is, he doesn’t have the money. He decides on the old “one last job” to raise the money. With “a bridge loan” from a notorious loan shark—“It’s the cash I need to get the cash for tomorrow,” he says–Budge arranges to buy and then resell 50 kilos of drugs. After the sale he’ll double the money, repay the loan shark, who wants his cash by midnight that same night, and have enough left over to start his new life.

When the plan goes sideways. the buyer pulls out, and Budge is left holding the bag. As the clock ticks toward midnight he desperately tries to remedy his situation before the loan shark “puts him under a slab” and his dreams of owning the auto body shop disappear.

The topline plot of “Nightride” is something we’ve seen before. The “one last job” story may be familiar but the film’s execution isn’t. The one-shot technique, which is often faked with tricky editing but appears to be legit here, is effectively used to convey the sense of drama Budge feels as his plan swirls down the drain. It effectively creates a you-are-there vibe that adds to the atmosphere of tension the surrounds Budge.

Dunford is on screen for 95% of the film, often behind the wheel of his car as the action churns around him. His charisma and interior performance—his calm exterior hides what must be an internal ocean of emotion—keep the story on track. Almost all of the real action happens off screen and yet, through Dunford ‘s facial expressions and body language, we always know what is going on.

Plot wise there isn’t anything we haven’t seen before in “Nightride.” From the evil loan shark and the one-last-score angle to the bungled plan and high personal stakes, it could feel like déjà vu, but Fingleton’s swift pacing, an atmospheric soundtrack and good performances elevate the material.

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