A recent-events drama of a decidedly cynical sort, The Runner tackles the 2010 BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast through the prism of a congressman (Nicolas Cage) whose Senate ambitions are stoked by his wife (Connie Nielsen) and his potential BP backer (Mad Men‘s Bryan Batt) but complicated by his desire to help out his fellow working-class Louisianans.
Writer-director Austin Stark’s film throws its protagonist’s plans into disarray when that congressman’s affair with the African-American wife of a local fisherman becomes cable TV news fodder, sending his career into a tailspin and initiating lots of turgid boozing, dreary chats with his alcoholic former-mayor father (Peter Fonda), and a budding romance with his consultant (Sarah Paulson).
Though mired in the push-pull between corporate interests, community economics, and local politics — and evoking a potent sense of its New Orleans milieu — The Runner truly only cares about the moral dilemma of its lead. While Cage’s performance has a low-key simmer that suggests inner turmoil, his politician is a hazy construct whose ultimate choice is merely that between Doing What’s Right and Selling Out.
Stark’s script provides a less than uplifting verdict on the possibility of achieving the former in the face of overwhelming money and the power and opportunity it affords, but the film tackles its issues with a furrowed-brow solemnity that eventually spills into outright sluggishness.
Written and directed by Austin Stark
Opens August 7