Oil spills, sex scandals and the dirty, dirty world of politics. Just another day at the office for Cage in The Runner.
“I’m running for Senate to move things forward, not only for this great state of Louisiana, for this great country.”
Last week I wrote about Inconceivable, the latest direct-to-video title starring everyone’s favorite actor Nicolas Cage. In that column, I wrote that Inconceivable was the only Cage DTV flick I could recall that was more drama and less action. This week I’m here to dispute that claim by talking about 2015’s The Runner, a drama based on the 2010 BP oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Louisiana.
Cage stars a Colin Price, a relatively unknown Congressman representing Louisiana’s second district. After the BP oil rig explodes, killing 11 men and releasing hundreds of gallons of oil into the ocean, Price is genuinely upset. He reaches out to the local fisherman and does all he can to help them.
Price eventually delivers a powerful and moving speech on the floor of Congress begging the American government to help these people negatively impacted by the spill in Louisiana. The speech ends with Price shedding tears and the next morning he learns he has captured the heart of America. The timing for this signature moment couldn’t be better as Louisiana’s seat in the Senate is up for re-election in just matter of months and this serves as the perfect springboard for Price’s candidacy.
Like most politicians Price has some vices he must deal with. Less than a week after his heartfelt plea, news and video footage of Price participating in an affair surfaces. Complicating matters is the fact that the affair is with the wife of a fisherman hurt by the oil spill. In a span of just 5 days Price goes from unknown Congressman to a beloved member of Congress on the side of the people to a disgraced politician. To make matters worse he resorts to the bottle after 16 years sober. It’s a bit of a wild ride.
Looking at The Runner as just a movie and things are a bit uneven. First-time writer/director Austin Stark jams a ton of information into 90 minutes. Some of it feels like it needs more context and is underused while other aspects feel unnecessary for the story as a whole. Stark is plagued by issues that face many first time directors. The final result ends up a bit mixed, but generally speaking, I think the film is mostly good and Stark does a fine job.
When it comes to Cage specifically, which we all know is the focus of this column, I think he gives a very good performance overall with a few really outstanding powerhouse moments. The speech from the top of the film is riveting and you see a glimpse of the actor that dominated the 90’s, picking up one Oscar along the way. That speech is 100% genuine, you can tell Price is personally affected by the spill. You can see the emotion in Cage’s face and hear it in his voice as he delivers the strong message.
As the film goes on, Cage gets better and better. Price’s life turns to utter chaos at the worst possible time. Yes, he has his issues and his demons to face, but he truly does care about the people of Louisiana and he wants to help them overcome this terrible tragedy. He desperately wants to help restore the community but getting past the affair proves difficult. He ends up being forced to resign and descends into alcoholism.
Cage plays the part very restrained. At one point he has a pretty serious breakdown but he’s still rather reserved, handling everything with a more subtle and delicate approach. This isn’t the crazy, over-the-top Cage that most people are used to. This is a heartfelt performance with emotion seeping through.
In a sort of strange way, Cage’s portrayal of Price in The Runner parallels his career as an actor. Once Price’s dirty laundry is aired for all the world to see people stop judging him for his performance in office and rather focus on his personal life. From that moment forward everything he does is criticized for having some ulterior motive. In recent years Cage as an actor has been scrutinized in a similar fashion. Many reviews can’t help but bring up the weird, eccentric personality Cage exhibits in his personal life when critiquing his films.
Cage, for his part, seems to agree with this notion at least somewhat.
“I’ve noticed with the advent of the TMZ culture that what is selling now is personal flaws and gossip, so much so that it has even infiltrated the vanguard of commentary,” Cage told Variety in a 2015 interview around the film’s release. “I was scratching my head like this is really a shift in the culture, so I thought I could approach Colin Price, this fictional character of the New Orleanian politician, with a little bit of understanding of his experience, and therefore, I could be honest in the portrayal.”
“I see both sides of the argument,” Cage further elaborates in the interview. “But first and foremost, I’ve always chosen to—let’s call it judge someone on their performance, whether it be a performance in filmmaking or a performance in directing or a performance in office as a person in Washington who’s trying to make a difference.”
The Runner has its fair share of flaws, this is undeniable, but it serves as a good vehicle to show Cage hasn’t lost his touch. He still has the range and ability to mix things up. He doesn’t always need to take it to 11. Cage is a wildly skilled actor and still has the ability to own a performance when taking a more subtle approach. The Runner is a perfect example of this.