Synopsis: An emerging political scandal in Toronto in 2013 seen through the eyes of young staffers at city hall and a local newspaper.
Stars: Ben Platt, Nina Dobrev, Mena Massoud, Damian Lewis, Jennifer Ehle, Scott Speedman
Director: Ricky Tollman
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Political movies can go one of two ways in my book. They can either be timely pieces that illustrate how current events line up with the past (or vice versa) or they can be too talky, with insider-baseball scripts that only a third year Senate intern would appreciate. So it’s interesting to note that Run this Town is one of these genre films that wants to have it both ways. It revels in deep dive dialogue that strives to impress while looking to find a way to connect up with our political climate today.
Living in the early months of 2020 and the simmering pot of salty water that will soon be brought to a boil by our November presidential election, it can be easy to forget the 2013 events that are covered in Run this Town. Even I needed to stop the movie for a few minutes to get a little refresher about what’s happening in writer/director Ricky Tollman’s breathless opening, a back and forth between a group of young politicos that hits the ground running without much of a warm-up. While I’m more familiar with Toronto’s Rob Ford for his infamous antics first as Mayor and then as a scandalized fallen citizen with drug charges, I admit I wasn’t aware of the late politician’s troublesome behavior in a pre-Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment landscape.
At the center of the film is Bram (Ben Platt, Pitch Perfect), a recent college grad hoping to become a journalist that lands a job at an impressive paper in Toronto where his bosses are Scott Speedman (The Vow) and the imposing Jennifer Ehle (RoboCop). Coming from a privileged family (not unlike Platt himself), Bram has an uphill battle in proving himself and he’s after a big story…and it presents itself to him when he catches wind of the dirty dealings surrounding Mayor Rob Ford (Damian Lewis, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, unrecognizable in a fat suit and prosthetic facial additions) and his political office. As Bram attempts to navigate the tricky ethics of exposing a political animal, Ford’s long-suffering aide (Mena Massoud, Aladdin) struggles with his own morals in protecting his boss though he knows what kind of man he is. An encounter between Ford and a young aide (Nina Dobrev, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) proves to be a catalyst that will send a ripple effect through the political halls and newspaper rooms of Toronto and, soon, the world.
Reminding me to a lesser extent of Spotlight, Run this Town absolutely has its focus in the right place but I’m not sure if there was something lost in the translation of Tollman’s script to the screen or what but the movie is dense and distracting. Even focusing in on the dialogue, the movie is sometimes hard to follow and at a not that long 99 minutes the film feels padded for time. The performances are solid across the board, but the jury is out if Lewis is excellent under all that plastic and padding or if it’s an absolutely terrible hammy take on Ford. You won’t be able to take your eyes off it, that’s for sure. There’s promise in Tollman’s ear for sharp dialogue though and, with time, I think he’ll be a director to watch out for. Not quite the talk of the town yet, but Run this Town is a good start.