Will Forte follows up his strong dramatic turn in Nebraska with an even better performance in what turns out to be a better movie with Run & Jump.
For the record, I wasn't a huge Nebraska fan. I liked it just fine, and found the work of Forte, Bruce Dern and Bob Odenkirk to be quite good, but the stupid premise torpedoed the movie from greatness for me.
Run & Jump has a stronger premise, and an equally great cast, making it the first truly good film of 2014 in my book. Forte, a talented actor, is doing a nice job of picking dramatic parts to go with his crazier turns in films like Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie and MacGruber.
Forte plays Ted, an American doctor in Ireland studying Conor (Edward MacLiam), a relatively young stroke patient returning to his family after being in a coma. The stroke has rendered Conor childlike, with most of his motor skills but little memory of the man he was before. Ted lives with him and his family, videotaping Conor in his interactions with his spirited wife, Vanetia, played winningly by Maxine Peake.
Conor's state has left him relatively useless as a father figure, husband and lover. His two kids are left confused, while Vanetia does her best to remain upbeat and good-natured. Slowly, Ted begins to step in as a friend to Vanetia, and a father figure to the children.
Much credit goes to director and co-writer Steph Green for making this tough plot work. Ted remains a highly sympathetic character, rather than some selfish jerk who is moving in on an emotionally incapacitated stroke victim's wife and family. The movie has touches of wonderful humor and weirdness to go with its justifiable sadness.
Another factor in making the emotional tonal shifts in this film work so well would be Peake, who traverses easily from humor to the tragic. She's so effortless and wonderful in this performance that it makes you wonder where she's been the last 20 years. A look at her career shows a lot of work, mostly in TV. If anybody deserves more prominent parts, it's this actress.
MacLiam has perhaps the toughest job in the movie, playing the confused and disoriented Conor. MacLiam keeps Conor worlds away from stereotype, giving a realistic portrayal of somebody who has lost his former self, and is mostly unaware of this fact. While there are moments of Conor realizing who he was and perhaps missing his former life, he's just sort of determined to get on with things and, in one of the film's odder moments, kidnap meerkats.
Forte accomplishes much with his expressions. He has nice control over that face of his, and many of his best moments consist of him just standing and staring, with everything being conveyed in the eyes. He's proving to be one of the more reliable SNL alumni when it comes to both the comedic and dramatic spectrums.
This is an impressive feature debut for Green, who proves adept at capturing great performances and beautiful imagery. Granted, Irish landscapes don't need much help to look beautiful on screen, but I noticed a masterful use of color and lighting in this movie in its first few minutes. The film is also the feature debut of Kevin Richey as a cinematographer. Judging by the looks of it, I think he's going to score more jobs soon.
Run & Jump takes a complicated setup and finds the joy and optimism in it. Forte and company gently pull on the heartstrings without mercilessly tugging on them. The results are a pleasure to watch, and constitute one of the more interesting film experiences you are likely to have this year.