There are many recognizable faces in director Michelle Danner’s The Runner. Elisabeth Rohm (of David O. Russell’s Oscar Nominated Films American Hustle and Joy) as Miranda Albers, Eric Balfour (The Offer, HBO’s Primetime Emmy Winning Six Feet Under, Fox TV’s Primetime Emmy Award Winning 24), Jessica Amlee (of the Primetime Emmy Award Winning Series For All Mankind), Cameron Douglas (son of Michael Douglas) as Detective Wall, and a plethora of others make this story seem familiar from the very beginning. Much of the weight of this film falls on the shoulders of Edouard Philipponnat as Aiden, a young man whose decisions have led him to a Faustian dilemma. One of the most effective tactics of the filmmakers who collaborated on this production is to manifest a dangerous world that somehow seems as recognizable as the cast. Cinematographer Pierluigi Malavasi, Production designer Alessandra Manias, and Art Director Filippo Savoia are the unseen forces behind the camera who constructed a world and perspective so relatable that the audience can walk in Aiden’s steps and feel the tension of his world. There’s a palpable uneasiness to films created during the pandemic and The Runner stands as a prime example.
The film revolves around a troubled teenager named Aiden. A drug user who sells product around his own high school, Aiden’s world is in an escalating downward spiral. Being busted for possession is just the beginning of his problems. Aiden introduces his innocent girlfriend to drugs and she eventually dies from an overdose. As he explores heroin, Aiden makes bad choices that lead to a “no win” scenario which results in either prison time or aiding Detective Wall into netting local drug kingpin Local Legend (Eric Balfour), either choice will surely bring repercussions. His understandably desperate mother turned Aiden into the police which resulted in such a precarious situation, leaving him to feel that he is completely alone.
One of the keys to the logistics of this production was using one multi-room building to create several different sets. Art Director Filippo Savoia communicates, “Michelle [Danner, director], Alessandra [Manias, PD], NY-based producer Brian Drillinger, and I all met to discuss the main location of the movie: the protagonist’s house. The house had twelve rooms and a beautiful living space; although, Michelle wanted to use different rooms of the house and turn them into other characters’ living space for different scenes. That was demanding, but understandable in the goal of benefitting the production. Therefore, Alessandra and I started planning to design different character’s bedroom styles, to set up in the same house. Based on the character’s descriptions, we rebuilt and decorated the upstairs room as if they belonged to a different house. Another remarkable decision we discussed together, was the style of the protagonist’s house. It had to be modern but with a touch of teenager’s inputs, in order to give more emphasis of the character’s personality and way of living.” The film possesses a massive cast, which made the need for diversity of sets even more challenging. Filippo confesses that the level of oversight on his part concerning props and sets was the highest he’s ever conducted on a film but was absolutely a requirement to achieve the desired outcome. Viewing the film, one would never imagine that these scenes all took place under one roof. It’s a testament to how essential creativity is in the art direction of any film.
The Runner is full of sorrow and anxiety of the most realistic variety, and is profound in its impact. Sadly, it’s a story that has happened too often. The cast and crew have utilized their talent and skill to communicate the humanity of all those involved in such a situation and in doing so, they bring the audience to a more understanding and empathetic place.
The Runner has been recognized by a number of prestigious festivals including a nomination from the Cannes World Film Festival, wins at the Catalina Film Festival, the London Independent Film Festival, the Milan Gold Awards, New York International Film Festival, Paris Film Festival, and a host of others.