Running with the Devil charts the production and journey of several kilos of cocaine from Columbia to Vancouver. Along the chain of process we are introduced to several key characters (played by an impressively vast ensemble including Laurence Fishburne) who all have a part to play in the drugs life-cycle. Nicholas Cage plays ‘The Cook’ who has been tasked by kingpin ‘The Boss’ (Barry Pepper) to track the cocaine from its origins to its final destination and find out who’s been over cutting his product.
First-time director Jason Cabell clearly has a background in the subject matter – an ex-Navy SEAL who also worked with the Columbian DEA, but doesn’t have the cinematic and/or storytelling acumen to transition what can only be described as a convoluted plot into something that is immersive and entertaining for the viewer. I get what the film is trying to do – showing the development, distribution and effects of cocaine production via various character actions dotted throughout the chain – however, there are simply far superior films out there on the subject. Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario spring to mind; both had a firm grip and focus on its subject matter, applying taut tactics to its stories and keeping the characters on a path to a common, thematic goal. Running with the Devil introduces far too many characters within its first ten minutes, which you could forgive if given time to develop alas, 100 minutes simply will not allow this coherently nor will you actually care – the thought of seeing a longer version of Running with the Devil in its current state will in all likelihood send you running for the hills.
This is far too ambitious for a first-time writer/director to tackle and it shows due to the uneven tone throughout its runtime. On one hand it wants to be hard-hitting (without actually hitting hard) by showing the devastating effects drug production can have on people’s lives. On the other hand, this has been juxtaposed with drug-fuelled sex scenes, montages, screen graphics and a quasi-hip soundtrack that, when it all comes together, just feels confused. The directing is not bad, Cabell hasn’t tried to establish himself as an auteur or innovator by creating flashy or unnecessary visuals, but it probably could have done with some flair to liven it up – not even the usually unhinged Nic Cage can inject some leftfield insanity into the mix, also opting for a more straightforward approach to the role.
Tackling the drug trade is always a tall order but successful films in this genre understand the importance of establishing an angle to take during pre-production and run with it. Running with the Devil is a smelting pot of ideas from better films that lacks any real focus or cinematic thrills and falls into an increasingly long line of poorly made drug-thrillers that spend more time telling, rather than showing.
Running with the Devil is available on digital download now.