'Run': Film Review | Tribeca 2019

Courtesy of Bard Entertainments
Not enough gas in the tank.

Inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen, director Scott Graham’s Tribeca premiere is a revved-up ballad of broken dreams starring former 'Games of Thrones' regular Mark Stanley.

Bruce Springsteen hovers like an invisible guardian angel over Run, Scottish director Scott Graham’s rubber-burning tale of youthful dreams crashing into the brick wall of adult responsibility, which world premiered at Tribeca film festival today. Expanded from a 2005 short titled Born to Run, Graham’s third feature self-consciously riffs on familiar Springsteen themes of frustrated working-class romantics, dead-end factory towns and the redemptive power of love. The Boss also features sporadically on the soundtrack, in the lyrical quotation that opens the story, and even in the tattoos that the two main protagonists share.

But Run takes place some distance from Asbury Park, N.J. Over 3000 miles away, in fact, in the small fishing town of Fraserburgh in northwest Scotland. And though the notion of transposing Springsteen’s revved-up Americana to a faraway Scottish coastal community is an admirably bold conceit, it loses too much in translation. Graham’s blue-collar ballad promises a last chance power drive but it barely gets off the starting grid, running out of gas midway through.

As a commercial prospect, the film’s chief selling point is a smoldering, sulky-sexy lead performance from former Games of Thrones regular Mark Stanley. But theatrical potential will be hampered by other factors, notably the heavily colloquial dialogue, thick with local Scots vocabulary, which will require subtitles even in English-speaking territories. Following its Tribeca launch, this low-octane road movie will be a tough sell outside narrow art house circles.

Like Graham's previous features, Shell (2012) and Iona (2016), Run is a character study of quietly desperate souls trapped in remote Scottish backwaters. The focal point is Finnie (Stanley), a 36-year-old husband and father who works a job he hates in a fish processing factory. Over the course of 24 hours, family tensions boil over between Finnie, his wife Katie (Amy Manson) and their teenage son Kid (Anders Hayward), a feckless hothead who has just been fired from his job in the same factory. Adding to the misery mountain, Kid has also just broken up with his pregnant girlfriend Kelly (Marli Siu).

Seeing painful echoes of his own troubled youth in Kid, Finnie is still just about young enough to harbor vague dreams of shaking loose his small-town shackles and racing off toward brighter horizons. Seething with pent-up rage at home, he sneaks out in search of late-night thrills in Kid’s car, reliving his adolescence by challenging the town’s teenage hot-rodders to dangerous road races. After Kelly jumps into the passenger seat, initially mistaking Finnie for Kid, these two wounded romantics share their fantasies of escaping Fraserburgh for life on the open road.

Citing the George Lucas coming-of-age classic American Graffiti (1973) as a key inspiration, Graham begins Run with a solid premise, but he lacks the dramatic horsepower to move the story out of second gear. Finnie’s inarticulate rage against his stifling existence is so poorly explained that his early midlife crisis ends up looking more like a sulky man-baby tantrum than a serious psychodrama. Most of the film’s skimpy action unfolds inside a cramped car interior, with Finnie and Kelly barely talking as they endlessly circle the same rain-slicked streets. As a metaphor for stunted lives, that kind of works. But as emotionally engaging drama, it lacks drive or direction.

To its credit, Run has a raw Scottish flavor that feels admirably uncompromising. The screenplay’s heavy use of dialect terms like “fit” for “what,” “ken” for “know” and “haim” for “home” will be exotic to nonlocal viewers, albeit impenetrable at times. It is also refreshingly rare to see the drizzly drabness and functionalist architecture of small-town Scotland captured accurately on screen, stripped of tourist-friendly trimmings. Born and raised in England, Stanley's command of the distinctively flinty Aberdeenshire accent feels convincing. Credit is also due to Manson for breathing life into her thinly written role as Finnie’s endlessly patient sex-bomb wife Katie and to Sui for conveying the inner vulnerability of the sassy, wise-before-her-years Kelly.

Run only spans a lean 78 minutes but it feels longer, chiefly because so little of import actually happens. Graham peppers the soundtrack with contemporary dance and pop music, but inevitably gives the last word to Springsteen, his bittersweet 1975 love song “She’s the One” thundering over the end credits. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, there is more passion, excitement and human drama packed in these four minutes of supercharged jukebox romanticism than in the previous 70 minutes on screen.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival
Production companies: Bard Entertainments, Barry Crerar, BFI Film Funds, BBC Films
Cast: Mark Stanley, Marli Siu, Amy Manson, Anders Hayward
Director-screenwriter: Scott Graham
Producers: Margaret Matheson, Ciara Barry, Rosie Crerar
Cinematographer: Simon Tindall
Editor: David Arthur
Sales company: Film Constellation, London
78 minutes