A brutal mob thriller starring Paul Walker, director Wayne Kramer's follow-up to his underrated "Cooler" isn't without issues, but surprises in that the film actually gets a reasonably good performance out of Walker, which is something I previously thought only happened in Bizarro World. Walker stars here as Joey Gazelle, a low-level mobster who is one of the survivors of a drug deal gone bad early in the film.
Instead of getting rid of a gun that was a key piece of evidence in the scene, Joey makes the mistake of hiding it in his basement, where his son and his son's friend, Oleg (Cameron Bright, of "Birth") are secretly watching him put it away. Oleg takes the gun and goes next door, shooting his father, Anzor (Karel Roden) to try and end his abusive ways.
Oleg runs off, leaving Joey in big trouble from both his bosses and the Russian mob, who Anzor was a part of. He and his son then head off into the night, searching for Oleg (who the film also follows, as he finds himself in increasingly bizarre and dangerous situations, as well) and trying to collect the evidence while Detective Rydell (Chazz Palminteri) picks up the trail.
Director Wayne Kramer previously helmed the rather low-key "Cooler", so "Running Scared" is a bit of a surprise in terms of style. While not as overly stylish and visually rapid-fire as some directors these days, Kramer certainly adds enough visual tricks to add to the film's surreal, nightmarish atmosphere. Somehow, Kramer was able to slip the film past the MPAA, as despite the film's excessive violence, it still managed to get away with an R-rating.
The film's main issue is that it's a bit much. At a little over two hours, the film's over-the-top intensity and graphic visuals start to become rather tiring towards the end. Cutting about 15-20 minutes out of the movie would have amped up the pacing further and made the movie more streamlined. Still, the movie is mostly engaging, thanks to its rapidly increasing intensity and Walker's unexpectedly fierce performance. Young Cameron Bright is also quite good as the quiet Oleg, as is Vera Farmiga as Joey's wife.
"Running Scared" isn't particularly original and it's somewhat overlong, but Kramer's sophmore effort is high energy, offers a good performance from Paul Walker and a strong visual style. It's not going to be everyone's cup-of-tea, but those in the mood for a tough, hard-R thriller should give it a try.
VIDEO: "Running Scared" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by New Line Home Entertainment. New Line once again provides a terrific transfer here, as the film's gritty visuals are presented quite well on DVD. Sharpness and detail are consistently terrific, as the picture appeared well-defined at all times and even showed very good fine detail in most scenes.
As for flaws with the presentation, there were really hardly any. Some minor grain was apparent at times, but that's an intentional element of the cinematography. Some very light edge enhancement was spotted on a couple of occasions, but was hardly noticable. No pixelation, print flaws or other concerns were seen. The film's desaturated color palette looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other issues. Overall, another great effort from New Line.
SOUND: "Running Scared" is presented by New Line in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 6.1-ES. The film's sound design is aggressive when needed, as the gunfights and other action sequences do put the surrounds to intense use to provide sound effects (gunfire, etc.), ambience and other details. Audio quality was terrific, as sound effects seemed punchy and dynamic, while dialogue seemed crisp and without distortion or other problems. The DTS presentation was more enveloping and mildly crisper and richer than the Dolby Digital presentation.
EXTRAS: Commentary from writer/director Wayne Kramer, "Running Scared: Through the Looking Glass" documentary, two storyboard comparisons and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Running Scared" is over-the-top and then some, but despite being excessive, Kramer's film offers up a surprisingly good Paul Walker performance and consistently rising intensity. The DVD presentation boasts excellent audio/video, along with a few solid supplements. The film isn't everyone's cup-of-tea, but those who are in the mood for a fierce thriller should give it a look.