*** out of ****
There is a sort of game to sniffing out a good Nicolas Cage film from a bad one. Here’s a pro tip: flops usually give away the hero’s situation in the title, as in Seeking Justice, Drive Angry, or Left Behind. More ambiguous titles like Joe, or in this case the Louisiana shot The Runner, promise a film worth watching.
So, what exactly is Cage’s character, Louisiana congressman Colin Pryce, running to? For the first twenty minutes it seems a senate seat might be the answer, but after a sex scandal forces his resignation, the better question is what he’s running from. The script adopts a seldom-seen even-handedness toward the congressman’s vices. He’s an impassioned defender of gulf coast communities wrecked by BP, an incorruptible proponent of green energy, and also he drinks too much and sleeps around.
Peter Fonda, playing Pryce’s father, supplies the only performance to top Cage’s. Fonda’s brilliance lies partly in embodying the clarity of a true alcoholic. He stopped getting drunk years ago; whiskey is like coffee for him now…or water…or oxygen. Soon the Deepwater Horizon spill takes the backseat to Pryce’s personal demons as he finds himself following his father’s dead-end footsteps. There could be a better balance to these plot elements, and the direction is nothing to be giddy about, but Cage and Fonda are strong enough to hold it all together, helped in no small part by Connie Nielsen as Pryce’s power-hungry wife.
The Runner does no real justice to the oil spill it’s framed around, but taken on its own terms, as a personal redemption story, viewers may find quite a bit to love here. The soundtrack is clean and tight, characters well defined, and Cage even nails the Louisiana drawl with its paradoxical Yankee notes. He and Pryce share history: both rocked by scandals, reputations tarnished, but trudging onward anyway, as if it was their duty.