Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blu-ray/DVDebut: Austin Stark's THE RUNNER showcases a low-key Nicolas Cage

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which has been the subject of a number of fine documen-taries (the best of which is here), now seems to be finding its way into narrative content, as well. HBO's The Newsroom used it in the opening segment and here it is again, as the would-be subject of THE RUNNER, written and directed by Austin Stark, shown below, who has produced a number of worthwhile movies but has now made the jump into writing and directing his first full-length film either a bit too soon or without nearly the talent to bring this kind of story to life.

Using the oil spill -- a dreadful event that continues to grow more so as time drags on and Gulf Coast fishing communities grow poorer -- as an excuse to build a movie around the political and romantic travails of its hero, Colin Pryce (played by perhaps the most ubiquitous leading-man currently on-screen, Nicolas Cage, below), seems somehow tacky and unimportant. And so throughout this generally lifeless film, they duke it out for our attention and concern: the poor, beleaguered people of the Gulf; the ever-present oil interests (personified by a suave and oily Bryan Batt); and a wad of tiresome, typical romantic and family problems. Unfortunately nobody wins, particularly the viewer.

"Romance" and "family" are handled by the likes of Connie Nielsen, Sarah Paulson and Peter Fonda, actors who are professional and alert but can do little with the by-the-numbers script they've been given. There is almost no depth of character here, just cliche's that pile up and block the narrative road. The lesson here is all about how politics works in America today, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has been around during these post-Millennium years, and whose response is likely to be, "Yes. And...?"

From its outset the movie seems heavily "set-up" to make its point, which it does: Nobody wins. Mr. Cage -- who starred in five films during 2011, three in 2013, four in 2014 and at least three so far this year, with four more planed for 2016 -- has got to be one of our hardest-working actors, even if many of his films end up as throwaways. He looks pretty terrible here (or maybe simply "real"), and his performance is unusually tamped-down and believable. But he, too, cannot surmount a script low on lifelike detail and coupled to only so-so direction.

The Runner (the title does triple duty for jogging, political campaigning, and, yes, running away from one's self) comes via Alchemy and lasts a thankfully short 90 minutes. It hits the streets this coming Tuesday, August 25, on Blu-ray (the transfer is quite good!) and DVD--for rental/purchase.

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