Running Scared has been on my mind from the minute I walked out of the theater three days ago. Why? Because I really cannot think of a mainstream Hollywood film that reaches the meteoric heights of violence that it does. Seriously, this is a film with teeth. It is ferocious, twisted and gritty; a pulp fan’s dream come true. It takes off like a rocket in the opening scene and is relentless until the closing credits. Writer/director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) delivers an uncompromising film that will surely stun audiences with its extremes.
Paul Walker stars as Joey, a bit player in the Italian mob. He and his crew are forced to kill a dirty cop during a drug deal gone awry. He’s given the relatively simple task of disposing of the incriminating gun. He decides to keep it, for reasons explained in the climax, and hides it in his house. While at dinner with his wife and son, he hears arguing from the Russian neighbors next door. Which is then followed by gunfire that shatters his kitchen window. His son’s best friend, Oleg (Cameron Bright), has shot his cruel stepfather and run away into the night. It turns out that the children saw Joey hide the gun. Joey knows he’s a dead man if the gun falls into the wrong hands and resolves to find Oleg at all costs.
There are quite a few surprises in the plot that caught me completely off guard. Just when you think you have an idea of where the story’s going, something happens that throws it in a completely different direction. These twists are somewhat random, but they’re highly entertaining and keep the film on the fast track. Characters who you are led to believe are minor resurface and have a dramatic impact on the outcome. It’s fun to keep guessing and Running Scared delivers some great shocks along the way.
Pacing is the key to Running Scared’s believability and this is where Wayne Kramer truly shines. The film is a constant race. It never drags or slows down. Kramer shoots everything in dramatic in close-ups. Each shot is incredibly tight and focused. We see every drop of the characters blood and sweat. He then intertwines these scenes with breakneck editing and clever special effects. The gimmicks that normally detract work spectacularly here.
Running Scared is definitely not for everyone. It will probably only appeal to the filmgoers that go for the pulp genre. It is, once again, pervasively violent with loads of nudity, gore, and swearing. But it succeeds because it pulls off all the decadence in a serious and highly stylized manner. It’s a great choice for a midnight movie.