MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Runner’ Won’t Win Any Awards

Film: The Runner
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Peter Fonda
Directed by: Austin Stark

Despite a strong performance from Nicolas Cage, The Runner fails to capture the tension and excitement of political turmoil in an original light.

The Runner is a rare breed of film that places fictional characters amidst real world tragedies to tell a made-up story about the human experience. The setting in this instance is New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, which forced countless members of the regional fishing and boating industry to fall on hard times. Many lost their jobs, and those that were lucky enough to keep theirs encountered shorter hours and lower wages. One politician recognized the need for government intervention, and his name Colin Price (Nicolas Cage).

When we first meet congressman Price, he seems as upstanding as any politician could claim to be. He legitimately cares for the people he serves, and when we first catch a glimpse of him he’s pleading to his peers in Washington D.C. for aide. The story goes viral, and in doing so catapults Price to national attention. He believes the aide his region needs may indeed soon be on the way, and he’s even started to consider using the attention from the oil spill debacle to launch a Senate campaign, but his career and public perception are quickly thrown into turmoil after news of a longstanding affair with a local fisherman’s wife begins to make headlines.

It’s at this point in The Runner where we learn what part of the human experience writer/director Austin Stark wants to showcase in his film. Cage is shown to be a man who puts others before himself, regardless of what such action may do to his own well being, but just as we’re starting to believe that he may actually be a true political hero we’re hit with the same tales of wrongdoing that plague our real world politicians, entertainers, and internet celebrities on a near daily basis. He forces the viewer, as well as the characters who inhabit his cinematic universe, to question whether or not they should allow unintentionally public stories of private matters–be them good or bad–to impact the way we view people and their ability to do their jobs.

All this would be commendable if there was any sense of life in the film itself. Cage may have a commendable slew of supporting talent at his side, including the ever-wonderful Peter Fonda, but the screenplay doesn’t give any of them enough to do to make their existence engaging or even worthy of note. They come and go, scene from scene, like a collection of somewhat known faces who collected checks and hoped for the best with whatever happened in the post-production editing bay. If they had more to work with the story may be different, but even at 146 minutes at its disposal the film doesn’t find room to develop anyone’s identity beyond the absolute need-to-know information.

The one shining light of The Runner is Cage who, for the fifth or sixth time in recent years, delivers an incredibly passionate and strong performance amidst a film littered with so much mediocrity that even his larger-than-life persona is unable to inject some much needed life into sagging second and third acts. From the moment audiences catch a glance of him seated in Washington at the top of the film Cage is electrifying in all the right ways. His struggle to be a good man while battling with personal demons suits his now-iconic on-screen demeanor perfectly. It’s as if he somehow stepped into a second dimension where he entered politics instead of film, but still had to deal with public scrutiny over his private life that eventually marred his professional standing.

I find it difficult to recommend even casual Cage fans seek out The Runner because it is frankly one of the least exciting films on political tabloid fodder I have ever seen. That said, the true Cage die-hards will be rejoiced to know their cineplex hero is still delivering top shelf performances after more than 75 on-screen appearances into a career littered with films that were ultimately far more hit-and-miss than his work in them. No one will remember The Runner in two years’ time, but when we look back at this strange period in the life of Nicolas Cage his turn as Colin Price will be viewed as one of his better roles. If that’s enough for you, then head over to iTunes and rent this movie tonight, but don’t go to a theater and see it. This film is simply not worth it.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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