Runaway intrigued me from the moment I began examining the DVD case. This was not because of anything especially notable about the promotional images or the plot summary, however. I was intrigued because it was directed by Tim McCann, an independent director that I first came across in 2005 with his film Nowhere Man,a tolerable drama disguised as cult comedy due to the inclusion of B-movie stalwarts Debbie Rochon and Lloyd Kaufman.
Nowhere Man was far from great, but it showed that McCann had promise as a filmmaker, so I was eager to see what he had accomplished with Runaway, coincidentally produced the same year. I am happy to say that Runaway is such a vast improvement that I found it hard to believe that the same director made it. From a purely technical standpoint, Runaway is flawless—well acted, appropriately paced and shot beautifully. The film’s narrative leaves much to be desired, however.
Michael Adler (Aaron Stanford) is the titular Runaway, and we join the troubled young man and his eight-year old brother, Dylan, while they are on the lam. The reason Michael decided to leave with Dylan is left unspecified, but hints are given during flashback sequences of his therapy sessions with Dr. Maxim. Michael quickly finds that he is in over his head, simultaneously evading police and raising his brother, who has grown tired of being confined to their tiny hotel room during the day.
The audience is left in limbo in regards to the truth behind Michael and Dylan’s situation for most of Runaway. The flashback-laded structure of the film clues us in that there is a big “something” that we aren’t being told and the film dawdles until its halfway point before beginning to suggest what that might be. In the meantime, we are left to contend with a film that is largely unrelated to Michael and Dylan’s big secret. Most of Runaway deals with Michael learning to raise Dylan, trying to make ends meet, and adjusting to life in a new town.
Adjusting to his new life involves a burgeoning romance with Carly, his co-worker at Mo’s convenience store. Carly (Robin Tunney) is a sassy, tough small-town girl with dreams of leaving her troubled past behind. In other words, a stereotype so overused that most viewers will know her life story and everything she will do in the film from the moment she appears on screen. To her credit, Tunney does an excellent job making the overly familiar seem interesting, and her effort is done a disservice by the obviousness of the material.
Michael falls in love with Carly, creating tension between him and Dylan when he begins spending more of his free time with her. Their romance is short-lived, however, as the flashback sequences begin to reveal more of the truth behind Michael’s situation and his occasional contact with Dr. Maxim puts the police onto his trail. Michael has kept Dylan a secret from Carly for as long as possible, but when the police pay her a visit, Michael’s two worlds begin to collide.
Collide they do and in a spectacular fashion. The truth about everything is revealed and, like so many modern films, Runaway has an unnecessary “twist” ending. I say “unnecessary” because it undoes everything positive about the film up to that point. Unlike in the modern prototype for this sort of thing, The Usual Suspects, Runaway’s twist does not force the audience to reconsider what they have just seen, it just simply rips it away from them.
Runaway had grown on me through attrition up until that point and good performances by Stanford and Tunney had made the mundane interesting. The film does a laudable job of making you actually care about Michael’s dream of being a pilot and Carly’s hopes for her high school diploma, despite how dull they seemed at first. Not content with simply a twist ending, Runaway does all it can to make that ending an unhappy one, ensuring that the audience finishes the film feeling emotionally taxed. The sympathy you feel for Michael will be lost and any affinity you may have for the other characters will be destroyed along with it in an ending that is of a vastly different mood than the rest of the film.
Shock and surprise are Runaway’s goals but it is more likely that the audience will just simply be indifferent to it. That is really a shame, given that if it had continued the trajectory it was on, Runaway would have been a decent low-budget drama. Nothing great, but the performances would have propelled it into above-average indie film territory. As it stands, however, McCann’s talent and Stanford and Tunney’s strong performances feel wasted here. The overkill of Runaway’s ending is so great that it overshadows what is otherwise good about this film.