The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Running Scared (2006)

This intense action film starring Paul Walker deals with a small-time criminal who is assigned the task of dumping firearms used by his hoodlum pals in various crimes.  He fails to dump a revolver used in the murder of a cop.  A kid steals it from his basement cache, and uses it to shoot his abusive father...and the chase is on.  Crooked cops, the Russian mob, child snuff-pornographers and domestic drama melt in an intersting, very Tarantino-derived stew that is quite, quite violent, places children in jeopardy, and ultimately satisfies on an undemanding action level for those willing to suspend moral conscience.  On the other hand...I can't help but notice that there are three black men in the movie, killed in the first five minutes.  The other characters promptly announce their brutal lack of regard for "those niggers," but tell the shooters they'd better not touch an Italian.  Hmmm.  And then, throughout the movie, the "n-word" is used as a casual slur, roughly equivilent with S.O.B., although there are no other black characters in the film.  And the director is South African Wayne Kramer.  I suppose this fellow thought he was being hip, and had no idea at all that if Pulp Fiction had not, in the heart of it, been about the redemption of Samuel Jackson's character, the use of the "n-word" throughout would have been quite distasteful. 
There are those who ask, why is that word all right when black people use it (I didn't say it was) but wrong for a white person to use it?  The answer is twofold
1) A word has both denotative and connotative meaning.  And that meaning shifts drastically with a word so culturally charged.  In general, the meaning of a word is the reaction you get from the person you say it to.
2)What is the difference between   making love and rape?  The acts can look exactly the same from the outside.  The difference is permission.  Consent.  In films, Tarantino has been granted a bit of permission (but not complete--there are plenty of people who disagree with his usage) because of his actual casting of black actors playing real human beings with needs and hopes and dreams.  But when you only cast them to kill them and mock their death...sorry, you have no permission, and the suspicion is that, when you say that as a film maker, you are representing your position.  I will only change that attitude when I see you present different images.  And I have zero reason to believe that a South African male has any more love, on the average, for black people than a Southern American following the civil rights era.  Lots of anger and fear there.  You have to wonder. It is reasonable to suggest that the way a filmmaker deals with the members of a group in his film MIGHT suggest  his regard for that group.  In this case, I suspect that Wayne Kramer has some attitudes that he would never confess to publicly, but nonetheless inform his dialogue and plot mechanics.  For those looking for a good violent time at the movies, a "B."  For those concerned about endangered children in cinema, a "C-."  For those sensitive to the way racial images are used in film, a 100% death rate plus strange usage of racial pejoratives earn "Running Scared" a "D" at best.

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