Home/Home News: The Runner

Home News: The Runner

Nicolas Cage plays a self-deluded idealist in "The Runner," directed by Austin Stark

Time for unabashed self-promotion again. The second feature film I was involved in producing – “The Runner” – has been taking up a bunch of my time and emotional energy lately. And it’s now available to view at home via all the usual outlets – cable and satellite video on demand, Amazon, iTunes, etc. So y’all have no excuse for not seeing it.

The film tells the story of Colin Pryce, a progressive rising star from a famous New Orleans political family, who gets kneecapped by a sex scandal just as his political career is about to take off. And the story is told against the backdrop of the 2010 oil spill that devastated a region that had just begun to recover from the economic fallout of hurricane Katrina.

The experience of making the film was very important to me – I was much more intensely involved in this one than in “Infinitely Polar Bear” (which, by the way, is still in theaters – go see it while you still can!), so on a purely educational level it looms large. But it also tackles a number of serious themes that I fear get short shrift in most entertainment about politics.

To start, it’s a portrait of a politician that tries to be realistic rather than lurid. Shows like “Scandal” and “House of Cards” are successful for good reason – they are enormously entertaining. But the caricature they paint of American politics may have a pernicious political impact: it encourages the electorate (and particularly better-educated electorate that tends to watch these shows) to indulge in a shallow cynicism that perfectly suits the existing power structure. (I fear that casting Nicolas Cage in the lead may have led some critics to assume that we were aiming to do the same.)

But political entertainment that wears its (generally left-liberal) idealism on its sleeve -from “The American President” to “The West Wing” – even when they succeed as entertainment (as the foregoing certainly do, and as many humorlessly-hectoring films do not) may not be great for the electorate either. Because that idealism is also a great enabler of politicians who know how to channel it for their own ends.

The ambition of “The Runner” is to show us a portrait of the political animal as he really is – someone who believes he believes things, but who is ultimately driven by baser needs. And whose self-image depends on not figuring that out about himself. He’s an addictive personality, in other words, and whether he expresses that through drink or women or not, he most-fundamentally expresses it in the need to run.

And the film then aims to connect this kind of personality to the society that chooses him for a leader, and its own self-destructive economic addictions. And so its cynicism is more comprehensive, in the manner of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, in that it’s ultimately cynical about us as well as the people we elect. Indeed, you could read the film is a kind of Enemy of the People in which Thomas Stockmann has different self-delusions, and actually cares most about being loved – or as a film about Peter Russo from “House of Cards” in a world manipulated not by brilliant machiavels like Frank Underwood, but by interests who don’t need to be brilliant, because they have actual power.

Perhaps the season of Donald Trump’s rise is the wrong time to bring out a film that takes politics – and politicians – seriously. But hey: when the studios do stuff like that, they just call it counter-programming.

Anyway: check it out. And then you can tell me whether it succeeds in its ambitions.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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