Running Scared (2006)
By: Stuart Giesel on August 20, 2013 | Comments
Warner Bros. | Region A | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 122 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Running Scared Cover Art
Director: Wayne Kramer
Starring: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Karel Roden
Screenplay: Wayne Kramer
Country: USA
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The MacGuffin in this hyper-violent crime thriller from The Cooler writer/director Wayne Kramer is a silver snub-nosed revolver that is used in the killing of a cop and is palmed off to street soldier Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) so that he can dispose of it. Unfortunately, the gun winds up in the hands of Gazelle's next door neighbour, a kid named Oleg (Cameron Bright) who is friends with Joey's son. Oleg uses the gun to shoot his brutal stepfather Anzor (Karel Roden). From there, both Oleg and the gun disappear into the dark, unforgiving night of New Jersey where various crooks, crazies and worse reside. Joey follows Oleg's trail in the hope that he gets the gun before either the other goons in his gang or the cops - led by crooked detective Rydell (Chazz Palminteri) - find it. In his nocturnal adventures, Oleg happens across numerous nightmarish elements, including a violent pimp and his girls, the Russian mafia and, worst of all, the deceptively placid charms of urban couple Dez and Edele Hansel, who turn out to be pedophiles.

Take note of that particular surname, Hansel: this is Kramer's not-so-subtle suggestion that Running Scared is a modern day take on a Grimm fairy tale, that we are following Oleg down the rabbit hole, but there's nothing on the other side so colourful or cartoonish as Lewis Carroll dreamed up. The film's set design suggests this most explicitly in the vibrant yet unsettling apartment of the Hansels, designed to snare children and keep them there. And it's this segment of the film, featuring the fantastic Vera Farmiga as Joey's wife Teresa, that most people will remember out of anything else in Running Scared, because the rest of the film is a bloody, profane journey into Tony Scott town that is both exhilarating and exhausting, yet nothing that we haven't seen before in stuff like Man on Fire, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Reservoir Dogs. Still, to give Kramer credit, Running Scared is frequently innovative with its visual tics. It boasts superb cinematography that makes great use of stylish steadicam shots, interspersed with frantic cuts, shakes, jumps and all sorts of CGI-enhanced visual sweeps. It's not quite as ADD as Man on Fire, thankfully, because Kramer knows when to show off and when he should let the material and the action speak for itself.

And when Running Scared speaks for itself, it's mostly of the "fuck" variety, with more uses in the opening scene than the average Tarantino film. Combine this with some brutal violence and you have a film that the MPAA probably would have had a coronary over were it not for some inventive uses of cinematography - most notably under black light in an ice skating rink - to darken all that spilled blood. But again, Kramer knows how far to push this sort of stuff. If the entire movie was all this sort of hardcore material, it would slowly bludgeon viewers into pained submission much like Michael Bay's Bad Boys II did, but the quieter moments between Walker and Farmiga, or Walker and Oleg, that lend the film some depth. Plus there are nice touches throughout: one example is how Oleg's stepfather is obsessed with John Wayne movies, but in a way that isn't just for character dressing.

Walker is surprisingly solid in this film, displaying more screen presence here than in a dozen Fast and the Furious films where he may as well have been a man-sized lump of polystyrene. Here, he balances both the loud and excessive moments (i.e. 90% of the film) with the more subtle, grim scenes equally well. The child actors perform strongly too - they're as far from annoying as you can get - and of course Farmiga is terrific, especially when she's able to slip out of the stock-standard wife/girlfriend mode.

It's nothing earth-shattering, and for many viewers probably comes across redundant, because we've seen this sort of stuff before. Except, in this case, we really haven't. If you're willing to go with it, you'll find that Running Scared proves itself to be a hidden gem in a genre filled with wannabe Tarantino knockoffs.
The Disc
Running Scared looks sublime in high-def. Yes, this is a grimy, sometimes almost monochrome world of pimps, thugs and utter shits, flooded with graffiti and blood and other bodily fluids, but the level of clarity and detail is excellent. Kramer and his crew appear to have used a lot of post-production tinkering, and occasionally the CGI is a bit too obvious, but the results are pleasingly scummy yet attractive at the same time, if such a thing is possible. And the audio is as loud and gung-ho as the film's gang members - there's plenty of explosive gunfights and sickening sound effects to test your home cinema sound system, yet the dialogue remains clear throughout all this chaos.

There aren't terribly many features on the disc. The main, and best, is the audio commentary by writer/director Wayne Kramer. He talks virtually non-stop about every aspect of the film, going into particular detail with regards to the film's cinematography, set design (he likens the Hansel apartment to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange) and the whole fairy tale aspect. It's a terrific commentary if you happen to be into those - informative and enlightening. Elsewhere we have a theatrical trailer, short behind-the-scenes documentary which is pretty good but hardly as informative as Kramer's commentary, and some storyboard-to-screen comparisons.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
With a less generic title that doesn't recall that mid-80's Billy Crystal film, Running Scared might have been a bigger hit at the box office, and it actually deserved to be. It's not the stock-standard Tarantino rip-off you might be expecting. Wildly inventive, profane, violent and entertaining, it manages to be showy whilst not completely succumbing to excess, unlike something like Tony Scott's Domino. Less a chase-against-the-clock thriller, more a "let's see how deep and dark this rabbit hole gets", Running Scared is unashamed in its embrace of cinematic pulp.
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