Film: Running Scared
Reviewer: Adil Razvi
Cast: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Alex Neuberger
Director: Wayne Kramer
Running Scared is an dark themed, stylistically shot, violence obsessed tale. The film tells the story of Joey Gazelle(Paul Walker), a low level mobster charged with the task of getting rid of a nickel plated .38 pistol used to kill a police officer unknowingly. When Joey decides to go home and see his wife and son first(Vera Farmiga and newcomer Alex Neuberger), the gun is stolen by Joey’s son’s best friend and next door neighbor Oleg(Cameron Bright). Oleg returns home and uses the hot gun to protect himself and his mother from the abuse of his abusive, John Wayne obsessed stepfather Anzor. From the moment Oleg fires the gun the story flies into high gear, leading Joey on a wild goose chase for both a run away Oleg and the gun he possesses that could essentially end Joey’s career as a mafioso and his life altogether. Joey chases after the gun in the fashion of a detective with sever anger management issues and strewn about the main story are several sideplots and characters such as a crooked detective(Chazz Palminteri) looking for revenge for the murder of his partners, a prostitute with a heart of gold, and a husband and wife who’s sick and disgusting perversions are resolved in a way that no one watching this film will be dissatisfied with. This all leads up to the finale of the film which is ripe with gore-tastic violence, plot twists, and a hockey fight that you don’t want to miss regardless if you are a fan of the sport.
Running Scared is a film that knows what it is. The strongest point about the excessively bloody, profanity laden story is the style it is shot. It could easily be mistaken for a comic book adaptation. From the opening robbery shootout you know that you are in for a wild ride for the next couple of hours. You can tell director Wayne Kramer analyzed and nitpicked every movement and shot because it shows in the final product. The camera is constantly moving, panning and zooming onto objects and characters quickly and effectively. This quick camera movements also help to keep the movies pace. There is rarely a moment that your heart is not racing wondering what you’re going to see next. In the action sequences especially, the camerawork sucks the viewer in as though they were in that environment experiencing the intense situations these characters are facing. One example of this is when Joey’s wife Teresa is frantically searching for a kidnapped Oleg in the pedophiles’ apartment. As the camera follows Teresa around in one long continuous shot, you can feel her fear, searching every room one after the other and coming up empty. The final mafia showdown, which utilizes a hockey rink, a black light, and plenty of fake blood is almost genius. For every action enthusiast it will definitely leave you with a “That was freakin’ awesome!” feeling. The movie’s style also stands out because of it’s originality. Sure it owes movies like The Matrix(what movie doesn’t these days) and Crank for visual style but it never copies any of those film’s ideas. Instead Kramer uses them to influence his own visual flair and eye candy and it’s safe to say I have never seen anything like it.
Another strong point of the film is the characters, particulary Paul Walker’s Joey. Being the main character of the story and also the only “movie star” , the film almost totally resides on Walker’s shoulders and his performance. Up until this point, I was most familiar with Mr. Walker through fast cars, sled dogs, and that Jessica Alba pirate movie, so suffice to say I was a little skeptical. Well Running Scared is his coming out party. Coming out into the real movie world that is. Joey is a husband, a father, and in the mafia and Walker is able to balance them all well. He really carries a lot of the emotional weight of the film and because of that you start to care about this guy you normally probably wouldn’t give the time of day. Beneath all the rough and gruff Joey is a good person and you can see this come through in Walker’s character, sometimes with just a look. This is polarized by when you see his means to finding the gun as he frantically drives around the city threatening violence on people, all with his son in tow in the passenger’s seat. The other actor’s also prove to be a strong asset to the film. While there are too many to name all, the standout is definitely Vera Farmiga as Joey’s wife Teresa. Her scene searching for Oleg in the demented couple’s apartment is chilling and it will definitely be the sequence that stands out in your head after the movie is finished. Cameron Bright also does a great job as Oleg. With not having more than 10-15 lines in the movie, yet being on screen almost the whole time, it takes a lot to keep the viewer interested and Bright pulls it off well.
Running Scared is not perfect, however. There are many well written characters in the movie but at some points it feels like too much. The movie does start to feel a bit randomized at times and you start to feel as though cutting out some of the characters that don’t mean as much and focusing on the characters such as Joey and his family would have resulted in a more cohesive story. I love the prostitute who takes Oleg under her wing and the janitor who finds the gun in a bathroom stall toilet but it feels like they were interjected into the story for no other reason but to make it seem more complicated and complex. Don’t get me wrong, all the characters are wrapped into the main story pretty well, but that doesn’t mean they were all relevant. Another slight gripe is that towards the end of the film, Kramer starts to throw plot twists by the minute. Now I love a plot twist when it makes sense, but what I don’t like is when twists are handed out like candy just to make the viewer feel satisfied. By the end frame of the film this is where it has sunken to. Nonetheless, these are minor complaints that do not detract from the overall feel, tone, and story that the film is trying to tell.
The Final Cut:
Running Scared is a stylized film full of dark themes and characters, brutal violence, and a fast paced story that will grab you and not let go. Writer/director Wayne Kramer made this movie for a certain audience and if you are one of those people it succeeds on almost every level.