On the surface, the words "Nicolas Cage" and "direct to video and on-demand platforms" used in one sentence would seem to have some combination of intrigue attached to them. But while there does seem to be some derision of Cage's choice of project, he does still have some command over his abilities, and this is displayed to some degree in The Runner.
The film is written and directed by Austin Stark, known primarily for his producing work, and this film represents his debut closer to the camera. Cage (National Treasure) plays Colin Price, a second-generation politician from Louisiana who is currently in the United States House of Representatives. In the wake of the BP oil spill, he has a moment of passion that gives him political celebrity, but soon a sex scandal finds himself examining his family and his relationships, and whether his aspirations of running for the United States Senate are remotely possible considering the damage that could be done to his personal life.
The film is not without its share of familiar faces in the ensemble: Connie Nielsen (Gladiator) places Price's wife Deborah, Peter Fonda (Wild Hogs) place Price's father, who is ailing. Among those in Price's staff are Kate Haber (Sarah Paulson, Mud) and Frank Legrand (Wendell Pierce, The Wire).
Yet while the film would have connotations of perhaps being a weird Jason Statham movie both in title and in synopsis, The Runner focuses on Colin's morality and his desire to realize a utopian dream of doing some good and having impact on people, whether it is in Congress, or at a non-profit that is helping fisherman in New Orleans deal with the economic impact of the spill, or trying to run for Senate. Cage handles this conflict well, almost with a certain sense of resignation that everyone around Colin knows what will happen to him, but will allow him his indulgence, even when he fails, because they pick him up when he falls, so as to call in a marker on him at some point down the road.
Moreover, this might be the best Cage performance since his work in Kick-Ass, or at least is one where he elevates beyond the restrictions of the material to give his character depth or emotional resonance with the viewer. The ensemble is not bad either, particularly Nielsen and Paulson. If there is a minor bone to pick with Cage, his Cajun inflection sounds like a mix of Boston and Noo Yawk, combined with an attempt at Cajun that is erratic that Jeff Bridges' work in Blown Away may have been overthrown as strangest accent by a recognizable performer. But that may be another rant for another time.
Joke if you must about what Nicolas Cage is doing these days, but in The Runner he produces a better than expected performance in a watch that is surprising in that is it watchable to a degree. Combined with those supporting performers, it is an interesting look at modern politics contrasted with ideals, even if the story is limited in execution. It is a nice surprise to watch, but does not have much of a life beyond that.The Blu-ray:
Alchemy presents The Runner with an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen transfer, and the results are surprisingly good, starting early on when Cage is shown running, and you can see fabric details in his Tulane sweatshirt. Facial blemishes and stubble is discernible, and image backgrounds possess a fair among of detail to boot. Black levels stay deep for most of the film and it is devoid of haloing or other grievances. It is better than I expected, to say the least.The Sound:
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track does not have a lot to do, but it sounds fine. It is dialogue-centric and when it does get a chance to exhibit some dynamic range, is clear and without distortion, and even has a moment of low-end fidelity, when Colin decides to try and smash through a fence with his car. Another example of when a soundtrack does have something to do, it does it fine, it just stays relatively dormant throughout.Extras:
Nothing here.Final Thoughts:
At first, The Runner seems like another in a growing list of goofy Nicolas Cage movies, but then while you watch it you are reminded that Cage can still act, and does himself a decent level of justice as Colin White. The film will not win any awards, but Cage and the cast should be commended for their work. Technically it is not bad, and could have used a featurette or two, but is worth checking out if it ever gets to cable or something.