THE RUNNER is a smart political drama with an ending so powerful and thought-provoking it will leave you asking many questions.
The film opens with Congressman Colin Price (Nicolas Cage) watching the news footage of the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill and talking to shrimpers in Louisiana who have been contracted by BP to help clean up the spill, something they have no idea how to do and are having to teach themselves, while they are out of work and unable to shrimp making less than half of what they normally would and having to lay off employees. First they were hit by Katrina and now BP, hard-working men and women who’s lives were changed and the struggle to move on became more than most could handle. You can see the frustration from the people Price talks to and deals with in each conversation. He is an emotional and caring politician, but like so many others his personal life isn’t always on the up and up and you get small glimpses of that even before you are given the full story.
The politician is working hard at trying to do right by the citizens of Louisiana leaving no rocks unturned and calling in every favor he can to expedite the clean up quickly and efficiently. His wife Deborah (Connie Neilsen) is by his side working to find backing for the upcoming election for a seat at the senate, with ulterior motives of her own. We quickly find out that his personal life is a disaster and needs immediate damage control. Enter his father, Rayne (Peter Fonda), both a former politician and alcoholic, who comes to stand by his son’s side as soon as the scandal hits, but his advice is more than questionable.
With video’s surfacing of his exposes with other woman, including the wife of a black local fisherman, his life spirals out of control quicker that the oil spilled ruined the ocean life and the countless local fisherman and families who depended on it. The theme throughout the film, just when you think it can’t get any worse for Price, it does and you begin to wonder, even with all we have seen with real life politicians, if he will ever be able to redeem himself. How far down does one man have to fall before hitting rock bottom and will he ever be able to get the life back he worked so hard to achieve, THE RUNNER takes you on the journey to find out.
It his relationship with Kate Haber (Sarah Paulson), a member of his staff, that keeps you believing that not only is Price well-intentioned but you actually want to start rooting for his success. While their relationship is strained at times, the tension is quite different from what is seen with his wife, and Haber truly brings out the best in him.
Cage’s performance is brilliant from the tearful speech at congress to the wide range of emotions you see in both his personal and professional life are truly amazing and remind you what outstanding and talented actor he is. He is beyond believable as a southern politician with more than a few skeletons in his closet. Scenes between Cage and Neilsen are so intense they will make you more uncomfortable than if you were the one being accused of the affair. Peter Fonda demands your attention every time he graces the screen, his performance will drive you to such visceral emotions and leave you speechless. It is Sarah Paulson’s character that makes you question whether you are actually rooting for Price to come out on top or lose it all, an opinion that may change several times throughout the film, which is full of strong performances.
Director and writer Austin Stark does a spectacular job of telling the story even in moments with zero dialogue which isn’t always done well, especially in political dramas. The story is relevant, intricate and well written with so many twists and turns that it is impossible to be bored. With such a complex story, most dramas have a tendency to feel a bit overwhelming, but that is not the case with THE RUNNER. By using the BP oil spill along with a political sex scandal, Stark did his due diligence to keep members of the audience entranced in the story. The screenplay is well researched which makes it feel not only credible but even more dramatic. I think what truly sets this film apart is that it is never afraid to be truthful and honest, there is no sugar-coating or Hollywood spin, like we see in may political dramas and that comes mainly from the script itself. In every truly great film there is usually one line or quote that stands out and makes the film even more powerful and THE RUNNER is no different. Delivered by Nielsen when trying to convince her Price to give in to corporate backing she tells him,
“Only great men know how to make people’s powerlessness tolerable,”
a powerful line and great example of the outstanding writing of the first time screenplay for a feature film. A strong directorial debut for Stark for sure which has me looking forward to what he will do next.
With it’s short run time of only an hour and eighteen minutes THE RUNNER will not only keep you guessing but also entertained. THE RUNNER is open in theatres and on demand.
Looking for other great political dramas, check out great films like PRIMARY COLORS on Amazon.com.