Photo: Oscilloscope/Quiver Distribution
Before We Vanish by Steven Warner Film

Run This Town | Ricky Tollman

March 26, 2020

In attempting to tackle topical material, Run This Town proves itself more part of the problem than the solution.

Writer-director Ricky Tollman’s Run This Town purports to tell the story of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who most famously was recorded smoking crack cocaine with a group of teens in early 2013 and became a media sensation. It was soon revealed that he had a litany of other bad habits and offenses under his belt, hidden by a PR team and staff of twenty-somethings who worked day-and-night to keep the press at bay. Unfortunately, a tale as juicy as this one gets lost as Tollman splinters his attention between Ford’s team and a young newspaper intern — Dear Evan Hansen breakout Ben Platt — hoping to catch his big break when he inadvertently catches wind of the shocking story. As if that weren’t enough, Tollman also wants to address casual workplace racism, immigration, xenophobia, power as a corrupting force, sexual harassment/assault, nepostism, terrible bosses — seriously, I’m here for the crack-smoking mayor, what are we doing? As a result, the film feels scattered, and its lack of a central rooting protagonist does nothing to help the situation.

Splitting time between Bram, the aspiring journalist, and Kamal (Mena Massoud), the mayor’s morally-compromised top aide, isn’t a terrible idea in theory, but neither story thread is used to inform the other, and so it feels like we keep cutting between a junior league All the President’s Men and a 21st century update of Primary Colors, stopping any sort of flow or rhythm dead in its tracks. The characters themselves are thinly sketched, and the lackluster performances from Platt and Massoud do nothing to add any sort of depth. The less said about the wildy miscast Damian Lewis, plastered into an unconvincing fat suit as Ford, the better. The film’s ending is especially appalling, as Tollman’s true intent finally comes into focus. In a bit of timeline manipulation, we cut back to Bram’s initial internship interview, unseen up until this point. We learn that Bram obtained his position because of a stirring monologue in which he decried how millennials are treated in today’s society. You see, they are viewed with disdain simply because they grew up with participation ribbons and  parents that gave them everything, forming within them an unfounded sense of entitlement over which they had no control. As Bram states in the film’s closing lines, “I want to participate. I deserve to! Let me participate!” That this is presented as some sort of rallying cry, an ostensible moment of introspection begging a contemplation of how society treats its generation of twenty-somethings who are desperately trying to clean up the messes made by Generation X and Baby Boomers, is more than a little tone deaf. This a buck-passing implication, a suggestion that all millennial responsibility can be shifted to previous generations for making them this way. While a compelling film could be mined from this topical material, Run This Town, as realized, is a substantial deficit and contributes to a problem rather than alleviates it. That Tollman doesn’t realize the difference is both laughable and a little sad.

Published as part of March 2020’s Before We Vanish.