You never really know what you’re going to get with Nicolas Cage these days. He makes so many films (12 and counting in 2019/2020 alone) that quality control seems to have gone out of the window. He’s still best in his crazed roles, but for every Mandy he then manages to involve himself in a Between Worlds. Anyone who knows anything about the dangers of correlations in this algorithm driven world will know the number of Nicolas Cage films correlates perfectly with the number of people drowning in swimming pools in the US (it really does, look it up). So, it’s with that odd summation of fear that we approach his latest, Running with the Devil.
Cage plays The Cook, the head of the cocaine delivery chain for a top dealer in Canada. The Boss (the players here all have labels rather than names) is unhappy that somewhere along the chain the coke is being cut and supplies lost, so The Cook is sent out with his muscle The Executioner on a quality control mission to supervise each stage in the delivery sequence.
What Running with the Devil does very well is show the transportation model of illegal drugs, from the poverty stricken Columbians who farm and cultivate the stuff, through the various middle-men up to the big bosses in US cities who hide behind political power and big business to make vast sums from the eventual street sales. It cleverly does this without being preachy, because Cabell never had the budget to make another Sicario. The on-screen notes detailing the increasing value per kilogram at each stage of the journey make for stark viewing too. It also details how inexpensive human life is regarding the ongoing product; at one point two militia kill two cops to take over a checkpoint and are summarily despatched within the next 10 minutes just to let a van through a roadblock. The corruption of officials is evident here too, at every stage someone is on the payroll and the film shows what an impossible job the authorities have when people are so dispensable, corrupt and easily replaced.
At a fairly swift 100 minutes, Running with the Devil is happily allowed to move rapidly and although a long way from a classic, it certainly adds something extra to what could have been a second rate Equaliser. Cabell’s script delivers a quick succession of scenarios which are well put together and edited excellently.
To be fair, Cage dials in his performance, never really getting above second gear. It’s good to see Fishburne take a more fragile role though, stepping away from wise and masterful roles in the likes of John Wick and Mission Impossible which seem to have defined him since back in the Morpheus days. His drug-addled dealer The Man is getting high on his own supply and is spiralling out of control and shows a side of Fishburne we rarely get to see.
The film has a wonderfully eclectic mix of music too; D4gerboy, Magnets & Ghosts, Jim James, Lo Fidelity Allstars all featuring at well thought spots throughout.
Running with the Devil will never be a classic but is an enjoyable and eye-opening traipse through the murky waters of the international drug trade and will hopefully give pause for thought next time you rack a line up while drinking your fair trade coffee.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Jason Cabell
Review by Colin Lomas