a critiQal film review Running Scared (2006)

Plot: Low-level mob hand and loving family man Joey Gazelle (Walker) finds his life turned upside-down when he ignores the mob’s instructions to dispose of a gun used in the fatal shooting of a corrupt cop during a bungled drug buy.

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  • ...creates a bleak portrayal of life the viewer won't be able - or want - to turn away from.

I hadn’t heard great things about Running Scared back when it was in theaters – but, most of the pans were from critics I tended to disagree with, so I figured it would be worth checking out. On the off-chance the critics were right, I decided to hold off until the film hit DVD.

After checking out the official website recently, I was surprised to see a quote from director Quentin Tarantino (a favorite of mine) praising Running Scared. That piqued my interest even further, and I was thankful when Blockbuster® finally delivered the DVD to my door. But would we enjoy this film as much as Quentin apparently did, or is this one film Quentin and I will have to disagree on?

Paul Walker has started to come into his own as an actor lately. Before his appearance in The Fast and the Furious (2001), his was not one of the most recognizable faces. Off to a bad start in the eyes of most, he managed to recover by securing himself a niche as a star of popcorn action flicks, such as Timeline (2003) and Into the Blue (2005) (along with dud sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)) – and in doing so, has started making a name for himself. Recently, he’s started to branch out from his niche, teaming with a team of sled dogs for an inspirational Disney flick, Eight Below.

Thankfully, Running Scared is directly in line with Paul Walker’s action flick niche – although a bit bloodier and violent. He’s gotten the reluctant action star down pat by this point, and it’s obvious. While his character is a bit more freaked out and hyper than what we’re used to from him, he manages to make him semi-likable along the way.

On the other hand, Cameron Bright, as Running Scared‘s young Oleg, is rather expressionless and cold for most of the film, intent on mostly showing off his scar makeup. With this cold demeanor, he should have been a shoo-in for the role of Damien in recent remake The Omen (2006) (instead of Seamus Davey Fitzpatrick), but that demeanor doesn’t work so well for him in this film. Obviously, his character has had a tough life, but he seems to be trying to get the viewer to dislike him. When Cameron finally does crack a smile near the end, it looks so alien on his face the viewer isn’t quite sure how to take it. Despite his seeming efforts, however, the viewer will side with him simply because of the events he is forced to endure over the course of the film.

Part of the viewer’s sympathy for Cameron comes from Running Scared‘s writer/director Wayne Kramer’s ability to come up with two of the most insidiously evil characters to grace a screen in years: Dez and Edele, portrayed by Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell. With their kind demeanor and friendly faces, this couple could be mistaken for any suburbanite family. But Kramer’s couple isn’t just any couple, and the secret they hide will give the viewer shivers. They stand out as the two most memorable characters of the film, despite their rather small segment, simply because this couple could be anyone, including the viewer’s next door neighbor – and the viewer would never know it.

Running Scared is a good example of a film that starts out simple, and gets more complicated as it goes along. The viewer is enticed by the simple – yet violent – beginning, and as the movie progresses and the complexity increases, are drawn further in almost without realizing it. By the end of the film, the viewer is shocked by how twisted the road became that lead them to the conclusion – but lead them there it did. Unsurprisingly – since Quentin liked it, there is quite a lot of blood shed along the way, so this isn’t the film for squeamish viewers. However, once even the squeamish viewers start watching, they won’t leave until the credits begin to roll.

From Running Scared‘s opening sequence, it will grab the viewer’s attention and not let go. With it’s dark backgrounds and bleached colors, it’s an intensely gritty film that viewers may find will leave a bit of a bad taste in their throats. While some films aim to please the viewers, Running Scared doesn’t. It’s dark portrayal of life builds on itself, creating a bleak picture that most will find a bit uncomfortable. Unlike some films, however, this is Wayne Kramer’s intention all along. He isn’t here to make light of the situation – Wayne Kramer is exposing it, no matter how dark it gets.

Running Scared‘s attraction is sort of like watching a bad car wreck: although disturbing, the viewer won’t be able to look away.

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