Running with the Devil, 2019.
Directed by Jason Cabell.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Leslie Bibb, Peter Facinelli, Clifton Collins Jr., Natalia Reyes, Christian Tappan, and Cole Hauser.
When his cocaine shipment is intercepted, The Boss wants to know why. Two of his best are sent in to ensure this doesn’t happen again – but with federal agents hot on their heels, it’s not an easy journey.
Running with the Devil is largely a story we’ve seen countless times before – drug runners vs. federal agents – but director, Jason Cabell, shifts the focus from the characters to the drugs themselves. It’s a move that saves the film from falling into the category of generic. The titular ‘Devil’ is cocaine. Nicolas Cage (The Cook) and Laurence Fishburne (The Man) may receive top billing, but it’s cocaine that is the main focus of Cabell’s film. Amidst the violence and sex, Running with the Devil is a subtle commentary on the pervasiveness and destructive nature of the drug trade. Cocaine is a known killer but Running with the Devil goes beyond overdoses – it tells the story of those turned into killers by the drug.
Cabell serves as the only scriptwriter on Running with the Devil and as such, his vision is plainly evident in the film. There is no mistaking that cocaine is our focus. Running with the Devil isn’t a dialogue heavy film but you can bet that when dialogue is used, they’re discussing … you guessed it – cocaine. Cabell brandishes his own personal style via a map that appears countless times throughout the film as it tracks the drug’s shipment from Mexico all the way to Canada. On first appearance, the map feels jarring. It’s all very Indiana Jones in a film that rather contrastingly opens with a scene in which a man is burnt alive. That being said, Running with the Devil sticks with the map and with some time to accustom yourself to the style, it’s clear what purpose the map is serving.
It goes unnoticed in the film but Running with the Devil‘s characters aren’t named. It’s only as the credits begin to roll that you learn that Nicolas Cage plays The Cook and Laurence Fishburne plays The Man. Other characters include The Agent in Charge (Leslie Bibb), The Executioner (Cole Hauser) and The Snitch (Adam Goldberg). Cabell eliminates back-story – putting an intense focus on each character’s role in the drug trade. For much of the film, you wonder why high-profile actors like Cage and Fishburne would take on such small roles but Running with the Devil‘s final act finally gives them something to sink their teeth into and really emphasises just how deadly the drug trade can be.
Running with the Devil has a relatively short run-time at 90 minutes but still, the first half of the film feels slow. Cabell cuts between several locations and with no clear central protagonist, it’s difficult to find any emotional tether in the film. The final act is a different story altogether. The less you know the better but as each character’s storyline reaches its conclusion, Cabell draws Running with the Devil‘s themes together – with a few plot twists thrown in for good measure. Cabell’s film successfully explores how the journey of a single shipment of drugs can destroy lives across several countries and continents. From the families left behind at home, to those who lose their loved ones to overdoses, to those who fail the wrong person … the body count is high.
Running with the Devil isn’t sentimental by any means but Cabell does convey a profound point. The film’s drugs begin life with The Farmer (Clifton Collins Jr.) and fittingly, the same character bookends the film. In a mid-credits scene, we see The Farmer undertake the same journey again and again and again – completely oblivious to the deaths his actions have caused thousands of miles away. Cabell’s Running with the Devil may seem like another generic crime thriller on the surface but once you start peeling back the layers, there’s more to this film than its marketing gives it credit for.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★