I have no doubt that Michelle Danner, one of the world's most renowned acting coaches, figured out early on that she could easily wrap her latest film The Runner around Edouard Philipponnat, a relatively new French-Finnish actor with impossibly good looks and a charisma that practically demands that you watch his every move.
Philipponnat is required to possess such a cinematic swagger as Aiden, a troubled teenager forced to go undercover by cops desperate to get their claws on Eric Balfour's Local Legend, a drug kingpin who has thus far proven to be rather elusive.
Philipponnat expertly draws us into Aiden's life, simultaneously repulsed by many of his actions yet still impossibly sympathetic to the young man as he's trapped between two worlds and people more concerned with their own agendas than his ultimate welfare.
The Runner is without question Danner's best film yet. It's a rather relentless action flick that centers itself around Aiden's harrowing life that spirals out of control with a gritty honesty not often captured on the big screen.
The Runner is already proving to be a success on the fest circuit with multiple prizes early in its journey including Ferrara Film Festival (Best Feature, USA), L'Age d'Or International Arthouse Film Festival (Best Director), Los Angeles Film Awards (Best Narrative Feature, Best Thriller, Honorable Mention: Actor in an Indie Film), Montreal Independent Film Festival (Best Female Director), Paris Film Festival (Best Thriller), Vancouver Independent Film Festival (Best Female Director), and a handful of others.
Trust me, it's not done yet.
Danner's work here is, in fact, incredibly assured and bold. This is an arthouse thriller with mainstream vibes. Jason Chase Tyrrell's story isn't one we haven't seen before, but unlike most writers Tyrrell never pulls back on those cinematic reins and demands honesty in every word and deed. Danner's background working with actors pays off immensely here because she helps bring that honesty to life in a myriad of ways. Of course, then it turns back to Philipponnat. Philipponnat performs with an ugly yet seductive precision that is sensual and seductive and scary all at once. It's a tremendous performance that should have Hollywood knocking on the up-and-coming actor's door.
While Philipponnat both fuels the film and grounts it emotionally, in quite a few ways the real uglies come from both Cameron Douglas as Detective Wall and Eric Balfour's aforementioned turn as Local Legend. Both gents are intense and riveting, Douglas undeniably disturbing with a relentless agenda devoid of humanity even as he pursues Balfour's equally intense and disturbing Local Legend. Both Douglas and Balfour turn in terrific work here.
Elisabeth Rohm offers a compelling turn as Aiden's mother, a woman trying to be the perfect mother while simultaneously aware she's watching her son downward spiral into something she can barely recognize.
Lensing by Pierluigi Malavasi is bold, jarring, and uncomfortable yet bathed in a deceptive intimacy. Holly Amber Church's original music for the film immerses us in every emotion and conflict and tense-filled moment.
Danner's growth as a filmmaker is obvious here. What's also obvious is that Danner has surrounded herself with a sublime cast and crew to bring this vision to life with a stark honesty and fearless transparency. It's a difficult film to watch at times. It should be a difficult film to watch at times. Yet, with The Runner Danner has crafted an impossible to turn away from story brought vividly to life by an ensemble that understands that underneath every thrill is a human heart beating.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic