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The Principles vs. Prescriptive Rules Debate

Harvey L. Pitt | March 28, 2006

In the movie Midnight Run, Robert De Niro plays a tough Chicago ex-cop whose refusal to take mob bribes cost him his job. Instead, he becomes a bounty hunter because, as he says, when he finds someone who’s jumped bail, he can just bring him in and “not worry about anybody taking a payoff.” But when De Niro agrees to find and bring back an honest accountant—played by Charles Grodin—who has jumped bail, De Niro struggles with his strict rules-based approach to life, which has already cost him his police job, wife and family. Grodin was a Mob accountant before realizing he was working for criminals; once he realized for whom he was working, he stole $15 million of their money, as well as their incriminating books. De Niro’s conflict is palpable: If he returns Grodin, it’s almost certain the Mob will kill Grodin before he ever testifies against them; if he doesn’t bring Grodin in, he’ll be aiding him in evading his legal obligation to testify.

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