RUN THIS TOWN Movie Poster | ©2020 Quiver Distribution

RUN THIS TOWN Movie Poster | ©2020 Quiver Distribution

Rating: R
Stars: Ben Platt, Mena Massoud, Damian Lewis, Nina Dobrev, Scott Speedman, Jennifer Ehle
Writer: Ricky Tollman
Director: Ricky Tollman
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Release Date: March 6, 2020

RUN THIS TOWN is an oddly structured piece that is, and yet is not, about a real-life political scandal. Set in 2013, the film, written and directed by Ricky Tollman, broadly concerns the downfall of Toronto, Canada mayor Rob Ford (played here by an unrecognizable Damian Lewis). Tollman tells the story partly from the point of view of rookie reporter Bram (Ben Platt) and partly from that of one of Ford’s “special assistants,” Kamal (Mena Massoud).

Starting in 2012, RUN THIS TOWN opens with a wincingly plausible meeting about what a budget report should be called in order to get the right funding. On the one hand, it has verisimilitude. On the other hand, while we see how Kamal can handle his peers, it doesn’t advance the story, and its boredom factor is a little too authentic to be healthy at the start of a film.

Then there’s Bram, who is thrilled to be hired by a local news organization. Bram becomes steadily disenchanted as he finds his job consists primarily of making listicles. When he gets a call intended for a more seasoned but recently fired colleague, Bram puts himself on the trail of a video that purports to show Mayor Ford smoking crack, surrounded by other people doing the same.

Ford himself is larger than life and largely out of control, going through split-second mood changes and abusing his staffers in humiliating ways. Ashley (Nina Dobrev) is trying to play it cool and keep her job, but she’s appalled when Ford puts hands on her at an office party and propositions her.

What happened to the real Ford is a matter of public record. However, filmmaker Tollman surrounds him with fictional characters. We gradually become aware that what we’re watching is less about the dominoes falling to get Ford out of office (a la ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN), and more about how the scenario affects Kamal and Bram.

The acting is excellent, but Kamal’s arc is a little blurry. Is he really trying to do good while Ford is distracted, or is he entirely occupied with trying to keep his boss’s misdeeds under wraps? We don’t get enough information to figure this out, much less how to view the moral ambiguity of it all.

As for Bram, RUN THIS TOWN positions him adjacent to Ford, and then hones in on the character’s frustrations at work and with his family. Bram’s issues are valid in human terms, but they’re not as intriguing as the investigation that is often offscreen.

Tollman sometimes utilizes split-screen, or just part of the screen, which is visually lively but seldom contributes to our perspective on events. RUN THIS TOWN has intelligent observations about how financial necessity and ambition can easily overtake morality. At this moment in history, most of us scarcely need convincing that a politician can be seen saying and doing awful things without causing supporters to flee. Still, there’s a sense of bait and switch here, with the factual narrative used as a backdrop for fictional character stories that are competent but seldom compelling.

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