The idea of a legitimate politician is a foggy memory at best for many people. So when Austin Stark (Detachment), who wrote and directed The Runner, decided to turn his film’s attention to politics, it was unclear what the results would be. Untested in the realm of directing full-length films (this is Stark’s feature debut), The Runner has interesting concepts but is slowly paced and not fully realized.
Colin Price (Nicholas Cage) is a Louisiana congressman who is deeply troubled and frustrated by the the BP oil spill. Well-intentioned, Price gains popularity after giving an impassioned speech about helping the people most affected by it and working to hold BP responsible for their actions. This speech is genuine and gives him enough momentum to be able to run for senator. But a sex scandal with a local fisherman’s daughter sends his campaign back pedaling. Instead of taking center stage, Price is told to lay low, not knowing that this series of events will turn him into the kind of politician he said he’d never be.
The film looks gritty, the color scheme a rough texture of darker colors. Stark keeps the film low key and there are a lot of scenes where Nicholas Cage is sitting alone in the dark, so that we can be privy to the seriousness of his situation. Unfortunately, we’re never really led to realize the full blown repercussions of all of Cage’s actions, and this is simply due to the fact that the movie spends too much time on other things–everything is far too fragmented and doesn’t come together well.
Nicholas Cage does, however, give a layered performance as a torn politician who has had everything he stands for stripped away from him. Connie Nielson as Deborah Price, Cage’s wife, tries to exude power even as her husband slips through her fingers. But since they have a working relationship also (she’s an attorney), they have to continue to deal with each other even when it doesn’t bode well for either of them. And Sarah Paulson as Price’s publicist gives a good dramatic performance as a woman torn between making decisions.
But regardless of all the above average performances, the deterioration of Cage’s character happens pretty quickly and so we’re not given enough time to wrap our heads around what’s happening. The relationship between Cage and Paulson is interesting in theory, but we’re not given enough time with them or reason to back their relationship or even care a lot about it. The film could have focused more on the backstory of Cage’s fall from grace, but with a run time of 85 minutes, it doesn’t get enough time to flesh out all the plot points it throws at us. The Runner is a semi-return to form for Cage, but not quite good enough.