Run This Town: A movie review

Rob Ford was the mayor of Toronto for four turbulent years, from 2010 to 2014. He achieved that by campaigning on a platform of cutting people’s taxes and trimming waste from the city’s budget, while also promising, “No service cuts… guaranteed.” Fiscal conservatives adored him, while anybody else who saw the sorry state public services were already in thought a raccoon could be a better mayor. He’s gone now, having succumbed to cancer in 2016. He remains an incredibly divisive figure in Toronto today. In 2017 there was a campaign to have a stadium in Etobicoke named after him, but there was enough pushback that City Council rejected it. Internationally, Ford is remembered more simply – as “the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto.”

So, when news came out that there was a movie about Rob Ford in the works, it got a lot of attention, especially in Toronto. It was going to be called Run This Town, and it was going to star Damian Lewis as the mayor.

That confused me. Lewis is a tall and well-built British actor who you may recognize from such series as Homeland and Band of Brothers. Ford was about five and half feet tall and rotund. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he was spherical. So Lewis’ casting made no sense to me. I never understand it when physically-fit actors are cast as out-of-shape characters. There are plenty of out-of-shape actors out there looking for work who are also loaded with talent.

Now that I’ve seen Run This Town, I can’t help but wonder why anybody made this movie at all.

It’s easy to see to whom this movie was going to appeal. Ford’s term as mayor is remembered in the same way as a four-car pileup on the side of the freeway. Anyone who lived in Toronto from 2010 to 2014 is a willing rubbernecker craning their neck to catch a glimpse of this carnage. The filmmaker tasked with serving up the goods is writer-director Ricky Tollman. The simple thing to do would be to have Lewis hit the familiar beats from Ford’s single term as mayor. You know the beats… “Stop the gravy train.” The weigh-ins. The squabble with author Margaret Atwood, “I have more than enough to eat at home,” and, of course, the denial about smoking crack. Such a movie would have found an eager audience, even if its merits as a film were in question. I suppose Tollman isn’t interested in taking an easy job.

Rob Ford is not the main character in Run This Town. The film is, instead, centred around a neophyte journalist named Bram, played by Ben Platt, and Ford’s personal assistant Kamal, played by Mena Massoud. Bram is a new hire at a struggling daily news outlet, and he is assigned with writing one listicle after another. Suddenly he runs into someone who says he has footage of Ford smoking crack. Kamal, on the other hand, is regarded as a master of spin. He is thriving in his young career, with the world seemingly at his feet. If only his boss weren’t so volatile.

If Tollman is making a statement by choosing these two as his main characters, it’s lost on me. At the end of the movie we flash back to Bram’s job interview from earlier in the movie, and he pitches a story about how people in his generation are misunderstood for being entitled, with their participation ribbons and such, but how they may never own their own homes. Is that what Run This Town is about? If it is, I don’t know how.

Filmmakers don’t have to make the movies I want them to make. I enjoy being surprised, and being led to consider themes I didn’t expect to explore. But I don’t know what I was suppose to learn by following Bram and Kamal’s journeys. How is Bram’s story that different from any other recent journalism school graduate’s? Kamal’s situation is somewhat more interesting only because he has to wrangle Ford, and he has to make a choice about his career after he fails to stand up for a colleague’s safety. I honestly believe that if the movie had centred around Ford and Kamal, it would have been much better.

As it stands, Run This Town suffers from the same problem as a lot of movies about intrepid reporters and lawyers – the real story isn’t about them. And when your movie contains a personality as gigantic as Rob Ford’s, it’s incredibly annoying to be constantly spoonfed more and more of Bram and his clumsy quest to break a big story. I don’t know how Tollman could possibly think anybody would care about that.

It’s not incompetently made, and the acting is fine enough (it provided work for three of my Facebook friends), but I don’t feel like Run This Town has proven its reason for existing. I give it a rating of 5 out of 10.