Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: Nicholas Cage is “The Runner” (2015)

the runner

This article’s title comes from a quote by Rahm Emanuel.

In The Runner, our man Nicolas Cage returns to his favored stomping ground of New Orleans as state representative Colin Price, an alcoholic, philandering local pol caught like a crawfish in a trap by a genuine mephistopheles moment in the wake of the BP oil spill.

Price has a history of fighting for the regular people of his district, the shrimpers and scrimpers of the Louisiana lowlands, the bayou folk. And after shedding tears in an impassioned speech about holding BP accountable, it looks like he’s nailed the Kodak moment that will take him to Washington in the coming senate race.  But a viral video of him getting all PG-13 with a fisherman’s wife in a motel elevator is cramping Price’s style.  Will Price fade back into the busy tableau of the French Quarter, seek refuge in the arms of anonymous prostitutes, drown himself in jazz and bourbon?  Or will he get back on his horse and ride for higher ground, without regard for those he must trample underfoot to get there?

A commonplace throughout the film is that Colin Price is a decent man.  His attorney wife Deborah keeps telling him this. You’d think she’d want to be done with him after his extramarital adventures, but that’s not the case.  In a great exchange, Colin says to Deborah, “This isn’t just about our careers.” She responds, “I wish that were true.” Deborah wants him to accept the backing of fund manager and BP stakeholder, dapper and calculating Mark Lavin (you may recognize him as Sterling Cooper’s closeted graphic designer Sal Romano from Mad Men) . For that support, Colin must reverse his position on ending Gulf drilling and embrace the oil industry’s job-creation rhetoric. Also, he must drop his nonprofit’s work on filing local claims for aid from BP.

Deborah produces a second quote that encapsulates the thrust of the film’s third act:

“You’ve always been a decent man, Colin, but that’s not why I married you. I married you because I knew you had it in you to become a great man.  And great men, men who build legacies, they aren’t always decent. They understand that people, they need someone to tell them what to remember and what to forget. They need great men to insulate them from frailty: what’s good, what’s bad.  Because only great men know how to make people’s powerlessness tolerable.”

That quote speaks for itself.  I would only add that the film’s middle act drags precisely because Colin Price is a pseudo-decent man, and he struggles long and hard with his demons, both metaphorical and worldly.  After watching thrillingly Machiavellian tours-de-force like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and House of Cards, I doubt if a contemporary audience has much patience for something as quaint as an alcohol-soaked crisis of conscience. We’ve been trained to want to see things happen, even if those things are horrific.  Moral him-hawing just gets in the way.  

There are certain parallels between House of Cards’ Senator Frank Underwood and Representative Colin Price.  They are both southerners, democrats, and runners.  They both have a predilection for bourbon and they’re both married to women who are more ambitious and proficient in the art of power than they are.

So much for the film as political statement.  As for my opinion of the film qua film, they had me at ‘Nicolas Cage.’ Toss in bit performances by Peter Fonda as Price’s terminally alcoholic father and former civil-rights mayor of New Orleans, and The Wire’s Bunk Moreland as Colin’s savvy campaign manager, and you’ve got yourself something more delectable than Picnic Crawdad Corn Cob Stew cooked in an old oil barrel.


What is it about Nicholas Cage and rabbits?: a review of “Seeking Justice”

Put the bunny back in the box.

What would you do if your wife was assaulted and raped?  If you’re Nicholas Cage, you’d buy two candy bars.

In Seeking Justice, Nicholas Cage plays Will Gerard, a regular guy driven, like so many of Cage’s characters, to the edge by extraordinary circumstances—driven to do things he never would have thought himself capable of, driven to employ skills he never would have guessed he possesed.  In short, to transcend the commonplace.  To be transformed by an oftentimes cruel world, and in turn to transform it, to bend fortune to his own will.  Did I just compare Nicholas Cage to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch?  Yes, I did.

As the high school teacher sits in a New Orleans hospital lounge, waiting for his battered wife to regain consciousness, a curiously Bostonian, Wahlberg-esque fellow approaches him.  Sympathizes.  Introduces himself as Simon.  Offers to “take care” of his wife’s attacker.  What must Gerard do to signal his approval?  Saunter over to the lounge’s vending machine and buy two ‘Forever Bars.’  What would Gerard owe this Simon, were the deed done?  Eh, a ‘favor.’  What does Will do?  What any dazed, emotionally traumatized, and enraged husband would do.  He ‘goes ahead,’ as Bill Lumbergh would say, and drops some change for a little snack.

And so the deed is indeed done.  But that’s not all, folks!  Simon’s group, like any vigilante conspiracy, is given to excesses, and Will Gerard, the english prof and avid chess player from New Orleans has bit off more than he can chew.  And I’m not talking about those Forever Bars.

“The hungry rabbit jumps,” goes the shadowy group’s catchphrase (for every secret society needs a cool thing to say; it’s like a handshake!).  Meet another member of the Brotherhood?  “The hungry rabbit jumps.”  Eliminated a target? “The hungry rabbit jumps.”  Mutate into a long-eared rodent a la Donnie Darko, become ravenous and leap up onto the kitchen table to reach some truffles? You guessed it: “The hungry rabbit jumps.”  The whole time I’m sitting there going, “Put the bunneh in the box.  Why didn’t you just put the bunneh in the box?”  What is it with Nicholas Cage and these furry little creatures?

New Orleans works wonders for any film with a dark, criminal theme, and Seeking Justice is no exception.  It’s no wonder why Nicholas Cage, that pioneer of the bizarre, seems to favor this setting (see “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”).  The post-Katrina city is a place of sharp juxtaposition, of wanton, costumed Creole excess crowded up against shopping-cart-pushing destitution, of posh hotels with Versailles-style french architecture a few blocks away from shantytowns.  I like to think of it as a place where our dreams collide with our nightmares, where things both sacred and profane can occur.  Like so many places recovering from devastation, New Orleans has an aura of unreality about it, of being outside of time, of being beyond any common measure of health or normality.  And what could be more surreal than wandering through this mad place, pursued by criminals and cops alike for a crime you didn’t commit?  Ask Will Gerard, he knows.

The suspension bridge-tense plot takes Gerard from the jazz-echoing streets of the French Quarter to the obscure bayous of rural Louisiana, from the Superdome to a still-vacant mall replete with creepy mannequins, their plastic stares paranoid and accusatory in the lonely darkness, on a desperate quest for truth and redemption.

Will the unfortunate English wonk  find what he’s looking for, let alone a fairytale ending with his stunning and (and stunningly accurate with a pistol) wife?  If you like vigilantes, candy, unintentionally humorous deaths, gun rights, or Nicholas Cage’s oddly sincere and utterly unique acting style (which he calls “Noveau Shamanic;” I do not jest—google it), then take the journey to find out.  I give Seeking Justice four out of five melodicas, because I’m a hungry rabbit for more Cage.  Put me back in the Cage.  I could go on, but you get the idea.