Published Mar 03, 2020It takes no acumen in political analysis to conclude that Rob Ford's tenure as Toronto's 64th mayor was an embarrassment of riches if you had an appetite for bumbling political scandals. The infamous crack smoking video that had him ousted from office and cemented his legacy as a political punch line is the central controversy in writer-director Ricky Tollman's portrait of the man, and the veritable solar system of people who circled this story to either supress it or expose it.
Run This Town views the timeline of the scandal through two groups: the mayor's millennial staff who supposedly really ran the Mayor's office while Ford was out "having a good time," as he put it, and a fictitious news outlet who risk their reputation to be the first to get their hands on the "crack video."
Centering the film further are two key players: amateur journalist Bram (Ben Platt), whose ambitions and desperation try to fashion this story as his one big shot at serious journalism, and Kamal (Mena Massoud), the "special assistant" to the Mayor who becomes conflicted over how dirty his hands have to get to protect his boss. Drifting in and out of the film is Rob Ford himself (Damian Lewis in a ludicrous fat suit), who is played like the blustering embarrassment and gaffe-producing machine the papers love him for.
The portrayal of Ford as a cartoonish monster of a politician who rages at his staff, and then can barely assemble a coherent sentence with the press, underlines the major stumbling block of Tollman's feature debut. His whole execution lacks nuance, opting instead to try his hand at the whip-smart dialogue and rapid exchanges of jabs that offer little in terms of insight or analysis to the scandal. Just as well — his dynamic presentation, heavy on split-screens, flashy jump-cuts and lively cinematography, come across as unmotivated at best and like the arrogant mistakes of a debut director being given prime material at worst.
As pedantic as Run This Town may be, and as clearly as Tollman views Aaron Sorkin as an idol, there is some enjoyment to be extracted from experiencing this whole insane chapter in Toronto politics once again. Credit where it is due, Tollman's film accurately shows that Ford, as a force of personality with a propensity for self-exposure, was pushed out of the office by the qualities that originally got him voted him in.
Yet so much of that enjoyment is muddied by the film's unfortunate tendency to use so many words and so many shots to say very little. Much like the recent trend in political dramas to pre-emptively pat itself on the back for its message, Run This Town emerges as a flashy yet airless retelling of one of the more unbelievable stories in Toronto politics.