Judge Gordon Sullivan's running from a light past. It's a change of pace.
Our review of Runaway: The Complete Series, published March 23rd, 2009, is also available.
Your sins will always find you.
Runaway tells the heartbreaking story of young Michael Adler (Aaron Stanford, Spartan), a young boy who has run away from home taking his younger brother with him. They are forced to live in a cheap motel while Michael works at a convenience store until he can save up enough money to take them far away. Michael keeps to himself until he's forced to work the night shift alongside Carly (Robin Tunney, The Craft). Carly's presence opens Michael up in new ways, making him vulnerable to his past.
Frankly, I'm a little tired of the whole "man running from a dark past" narrative because the vast majority of the time it's used as a crutch by writers. I mean there are only a handful of "sins" to run away from, like physical/sexual/emotional abuse or drug problems, so there's very little surprise when the past comes back. Also, too many writers let past traumas stand in for actual backstory and character development, so the audience is often left with flat, one-dimensional characters defined only by their victimhood. Runaway suffers from both these problems. Despite some hokey flashbacks that try to build tension, most of Michael's past is pretty obvious from early on deflating the film of much of whatever tension it was trying to build. Then, both Michael and Carly are fairly poorly developed. They trade a few facts about themselves, but we don't get to see much in the way of development for either of them.
With that said, Runaway almost pulled me in. Aaron Standford gives a pretty solid performance as Michael, and he does vulnerable well enough to make me care about him despite the thin characterization and sometimes iffy plot. Robin Tunney tops him, however, because her character seems to have as traumatic a past but has obviously risen above it to a larger extent. Tunney plays Carly with subtlety and restraint, balancing the obvious attraction between Michael and Carly with her character's reservations about getting involved with anyone. The emotional center of the film to me though was Peter Gerety as the convenience store owner Mo. Mo acts as a kind of father figure to both Aaron and Carly without ever succumbing to after-school-special sentimentality. When the three of them share the screen my qualms about the movie disappeared.
If Runaway had stayed in indie-drama territory, perhaps providing a teary confrontation between Aaron and his family after an almost falling out with Carly I would probably have been a happy viewer. Instead, the last 10 minutes head straight into indie-thriller territory with very little warning. Certainly there are some flashbacks throughout the film that point towards Michael's shadowy past, but they don't adequately prepare the audience for the full-on change of gears in the film's final moments. Yes, there's a twist, and more than being psychologically dubious (which it is), it's emotionally and narratively dubious. It provides no insight into the character, no insight into the situation, but instead reaches for a shallow, O. Henry-esque ending that squanders the good will the rest of the film had built up. The final moments are supposed to raise Aaron from sad to tragic figure, but it's simply not handled well enough to earn that kind of pay-off.
I'm guessing some people will be drawn to the performers and enjoy or overlook the crap ending. I certainly don't think Runaway is a bad film, but rather a disappointing one. In either case, the flick has been given a pretty solid release on digital disc. Shot with hi-def digital cameras, Runaway looks pretty good on this transfer. Although the limitations of the medium can occasionally be seen in blown-out highlights and slightly-off color, there are no serious problems with compression artifacts and blacks were surprisingly strong throughout the running time. The surround audio is a bit of a waste as most of the sound came from the front-and-center dialogue, but everything was clearly audible. Extras include an audio commentary with the director, Aaron Stanford, and Robin Tunney. The three are obviously on good terms and discuss the making of the film as well as its more emotional themes. It isn't always the busiest track, but offers some insights for fans of the film. There's also a behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews and on-set footage, plus an interview with the screenwriter Bill True. The latter was especially interesting because True shared how his own experiences influenced the writing of the screenplay. The disc finishes up with a trailer.
Runaway doesn't quite work as a thriller or as a drama, since it can't decide which it wants to be until it's too late. Still, fans of Aaron Stanford or Robin Tunney are certain to enjoy the performances on display here, and the decent DVD package makes this a solid rental choice.
I can't say you should run away from Runaway, but approach cautiously. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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