James Jay Edwards reviews Run This Town, a political drama directed by Ricky Tollman, his debut feature, and starring Ben Platt, Nina Dobrev, and Mena Massoud.
Given the current state of world events, political muckraking seems like it would be an interesting subject for a movie, right? Not so fast. Run This Town proves otherwise.
Set in Toronto, Run This Town is about a recent journalism school graduate named Bram Shriver (Ben Platt from Pitch Perfect) who lands a job at a local paper doing fluff pieces and best-of lists. When he stumbles upon a potentially career-damaging scandal involving the mayor of the city, Rob Ford (Homeland’s Damian Lewis), he pleads with his bosses to let him report the story. Meanwhile, across the aisle at city hall, a mayor’s aide named Kamal Arafa (Aladdin’s Mena Massoud) and a press secretary named Ashley Pollock (Nina Dobrev from The Perks of Being a Wallflower) struggle to contain the story before it gets out. It’ll be either make-or-break for both Bram and Kamal, but both can’t succeed—in order for one to win, the other has to lose.
(Run This Town, theatrical release poster, Oscilloscope and Quiver Distribution)
Writer/director Ricky Tollman makes his feature film debut with Run This Town. And it feels like a first movie. The visuals are slick in a Guy Ritchie/Danny Boyle type of way, and the narrative has the sardonic wit of something like The Big Short, but there’s a certain confidence missing from the character development and story arcs. The dialogue thinks it’s clever, but it’s really just a lot of words. The script tries to be Aaron Sorkin, but is really more J.C. Chandor (who is, incidentally, an executive producer on the film). Instead of elevating the story, the needlessly plentiful dialogue distracts from it.
Not that there’s a lot of story to Run This Town in the first place. The relationship between Bram and Kamal, two characters who don’t interact much but share many commonalities while trying to claw and scratch their ways to the top of their respective fields, is fascinating, and Tollman does a good job at showing how the two different sides of the struggle can be driven by such similar needs and wants. But the plot is thin, which leads to a painstakingly long and drawn-out setup that, frankly, doesn’t go anywhere. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but even those aren’t very exciting. Even the scandal that Bram uncovers is, although unconscionable, not very shocking. It’s nothing compared to some of the things that are happening in the real world.
(Run This Town, Oscilloscope and Quiver Distribution)
The presentation of Run This Town is polished, which shows that Tollman has a handle on the mechanics of filmmaking. It’s the storytelling that falters, suffering from a bloated script that doesn’t deliver on the promise of its concept. The cast is the real victim here; Massoud, Platt, and Dobrev try to make sense of it all, and Lewis works the hell out of the worst fat suit this side of Steve Carell’s Michael Klump. And their performances are just as slick as Tollman’s editing and camerawork. There’s just not enough for any of them to do aside from taking turns delivering their overly-scripted lines and melodramatically reacting to each other.
So, sure. Political intrigue movies are good, but only when they actually have some political intrigue to them. And that’s exactly what’s missing from Run This Town.