Saturday, June 17, 2006

'Running Scared'

I saw this movie, by director Wayne Kramer back in February when it opened. I didn't expect much - I only wanted to see it because it has John Noble in it, and his work is rarely seen outside Australia. (Besides, he's the one I modelled Dr. Debane on.) I was completely astounded by the movie - it's the most violent, swearingest movie I've ever seen (I actually learned new uses for the F-word from it), but it grabbed me in the first 5 minutes and never let go.

The story is a cleverly-disguised Grimm's fairytale, set in a dark, brooding New Jersey world of criminal gangs, dirty cops, hookers, pimps, and every kind of modern dysfunction. The story appears to be about Joey Gazelle, a low-level criminal in a NJ mob family, who is supposed to dispose of a gun used in a crime, but instead loses it to the little boy next door, Oleg, who uses it to shoot his abusive stepfather and then flees into the night. Joey has to get it back because if the mob finds out he bungled the weapon disposal, they'll kill him and his family. Also, the police are on the search for the gun and the boy, because the weapon was used to kill a dirty cop. Mix into this brew a Russian mob which is ALSO hunting the gun, and you have a story that ricochets from point to point, and Joey tries to stay one step ahead of all these adversaries. I thought it was interesting that the sought-after gun is shiny silver; like quicksilver, nobody can hold onto it for more than a few minutes. It passes from hand to hand, and Joey is always just too late to get it back.

The story of Joey is only superficially the main plot, though. The REAL story is about Oleg, and this is where the fairytale aspects come in. Just as in a fairytale the story is about evil threatening a child or an innocent. Oleg is being chased throughout the dark city, like a little boy running through the woods, pursued by a bear or a wolf. He keeps jumping from one perilous situation to another, and like a fairytale hero, he has to rely on his own cleverness to save himself. The pimps, hoods, dirty cops and murderous child molestors are the modern version of ogres, witches, demons and evil stepmothers.

Despite all the swearing and violence, this is essentially a very moral movie. Good and evil are clearly delineated. There's no sympathy for the bad characters - we don't get any "shaded" portrayals of pedophiles or pimps, or suggestions that we should maybe look at things from THEIR point of view. No, bad is bad and is given no quarter. In the end good survives and triumphs. How does a fairytale end? "And they lived happily ever after..."

On the dvd which was released last week, there is a nice "making of documentary" with extensive commentary by Wayne Kramer. One thing he said really amused me (this is transcribed from the dvd):
I'm not one of those directors who will necessarily put 4 cameras on a sequence. I tend to design what the Steadicam move will be or the dolly move. And I like to adhere to the classical sense of film, the craft of filmmaking, where directors were very much - they knew what the film was going in, whether it be Hitchcock or de Palma. A strong sense of how each shot connects to the others. And it's not about 'I'm gonna shoot as much as I can on the day and see what sticks.'
Gee, I wonder who he was thinking of there? Could it perhaps be Peter Jackson? Kramer sounds like a very level-headed guy, and rather like Fritz Lang in his very clear planning out of the movie, even down to the camera shots. I always thought that Jackson was rather an undisciplined director - his style seems to be to set up lots of cameras, then make his actors do everything 20 times to see what they might come up with. Hours and hours of footage had to be viewed then edited; probably the reason why he was always running out of time when making the last two LOTR movies (King Kong too, I believe).

Kramer sounds much less prodigal with his actors and crew, and his movie is very focussed and taut. Pity New Line couldn't have spent a few bucks promoting this little film, instead of throwing millions at Jackson to produce his overstuffed "epics". 'Running Scared' was only 2 weeks in the theatres here in Ottawa, and hardly anyone saw it. Now that it's out on dvd, though, I think it's on its way to achieving cult status.


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