Run This Town (2019) grabbed my attention because I’m a sucker for a journalistic drama. The trailer for the film will definitely sell the idea of a thriller where a reporter enters himself into the lion’s den in order to get the big story that will define his career. However, that’s a far stretch for what this movie actually does.
It’s based on the real scandal of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (Damian Lewis), who the film depicts as a wild card who only managed to maintain his position thanks to his dedicated staffers after he was filmed smoking crack by the people he purchased it from. Bram (Ben Platt) is a young reporter tired of writing lists for the newspaper and its website, and after answering a random phone call, finds himself vying to break this big story about Mayor Rob Ford. Kamal (Mena Massoud) is the staffer trying to protect Rob Ford from public scrutiny while navigating through the pressure from other staffers to let Ford sink for his actions.
Lewis requires a bit of prosthetic work in order to look anything like the former mayor. It’s poorly done in this film, and he looks more comical than believable. Ford is portrayed to exhibit over-the-top behavior, which includes drunken exploits that initially seems a bit silly and then take an extremely dark turn. If you’ve ever dealt with alcoholics whose attitude can turn on a dime, the tension in these moments will feel familiar to you. The picture painted of Ford in this movie is not a good one, and yet the film still doesn’t find a way to make the scandal all that compelling.
Platt is charming enough, but his character is puffed up to be this underdog reporter who could really be something great if he just gets his shot. However, the truth seems to be that Bram is a slacker who thinks everything should just be handed to him. There just isn’t enough here to make him an empathetic or interesting character to hang the film on. Thus, as the story moves, you’re left just waiting to really give a crap about one of the characters enough that you feel the tension.
That’s where the movie made its biggest mistake – Ashley (Nina Dobrev) and Kamal are both employees for Ford, and she should have been the lead. The film plays this as a bit of a three-hander, with Kamal and Bram being essentially shared leads – to a degree – while having Kamal being a little antagonistic to Bram’s goal. Yet, both are protagonists in their own world, with their own antagonists preventing them from doing what they think is right. It’s Ashley who has real stakes in this journey. There is a moment in one of Ford’s drunken escapades that he assaults Ashley in front of everyone and then shouts some horrible vulgarities at her. Since she is now straddling the line of being obligated to protect her boss and looking for justice, it is her story that has some real agency. Instead, she is simply an element in both Bram and Kamal’s story.
I vaguely recall hearing about the mayor of Toronto when all of this was going on, and it does sound like it could have been a very compelling film. However, the truth of what happened and how the story broke just isn’t good enough drama. I think the film wants us to feel bad too often for the poor, under-appreciated white guy who can’t quite catch a break in a story that references racism with Kamal’s character and sexism/sexual assault with Ashley’s character. Bram’s story is the least interesting, and gets far too much of the screen time. Run This Town earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.