VOD film review: The Runner
Cage on cruise control4.5
Dull script and direction3.5
Matthew Turner | On 06, Nov 2015
Director: Austin Stark
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Paulson
Watch The Runner online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
The poster image for The Runner depicts a sharply dressed Nicolas Cage giving some serious side-eye as something explodes in the background. This is a fairly sneaky marketing trick, as it leads you to expect a trashy Nic Cage thriller, when in fact it’s a worthy-but-dull political drama and the only explosion occurs in newsreel footage of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that’s used at the beginning of the film.
Cage plays Colin Pryce (making the film’s tagline – “Power always comes at a price” – that much funnier), a Louisiana politician who comes to national attention after an impassioned speech to Congress about the devastating impact of the BP oil spill on local communities. With media interest and public support behind him, Pryce is poised to make a run for Senate on an eco-friendly platform that seeks to abolish oil drilling altogether – something that doesn’t sit too well with his ambitious wife Deborah (Connie Nielsen), who’s lined up potential big business financial support for his campaign in the form of oil exec Mark Lavin (Bryan Batt).
However, when the media get hold of security camera footage that shows him having an affair with a married cheerleading coach, Pryce finds both his career and his marriage in tatters. On the verge of lapsing into alcoholism after 15 years sober, Pryce finds solace in a tentative relationship with his (also married but about to be separated) longtime PR consultant, Kate (Paulson), and he slowly begins to rebuild his career.
It’s uncharitable to blame some of Cage’s recent career decisions on his much publicised financial situation, but that’s the inescapable conclusion here. Accordingly, aside from adopting a passable Louisiana drawl, Cage puts in the minimum possible effort, keeping his performance straight-laced and serious (even his hair is boringly normal), despite a promising couple of shouty moments early on; essentially, his performance peaks with his tearful speech in the first five minutes.
Writer-director Austin Stark assembles a decent supporting cast that includes Wendell Pierce (as Pryce’s friend and advisor) and Peter Fonda (as Pryce’s former politician-turned-alcoholic dad), but neglects to give them anything interesting to do. We learn next to nothing about Connie Nielsen’s character, for example, other than she’s clearly been modelled on Robin Wright’s performance in House of Cards and the filmmakers are hoping that will do. Similarly, Paulson is both sweet and appealing, but there’s no chemistry between her and Cage, so the romance element falls flat.
The main problem is the lacklustre, overly wordy script, which fails to show any feeling for the real-life tragedy at its centre and isn’t even that bothered about hitting all the redemption beats for Pryce’s story, instead choosing to make a protracted and painfully obvious point about the futility of idealism and the compromises one has to make to get ahead in politics. On top of that, Stark’s direction is workmanlike at best, something that isn’t helped by a tedious, maudlin score that appears to consist of repetitive plucks at a single guitar string. If the understated ending is meant to have some kind of emotional impact, then it fails miserably.
The Runner is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.