The Rob Ford Movie. That’s the shorthand being used to describe “Run This Town,” a film coming to VOD this week. It’s set during the tumultuous term of the late Toronto mayor but make no mistake this isn’t a Ford biopic or a study of his politics. It’s a film that uses Ford’s tumultuous time as a backdrop for an unconvincing study of millennial angst among other things.
Set in 2013, the film centers around Bram Shriver (Ben Platt). Fresh out of journalism school he’s keen to tackle the big stories, to write articles that will move the needle. His dream job of being a reporter at The Record, however, sees him writing Best Hot Dogs in the City clickbait lists instead of investigating city hall.
Meanwhile, it’s chaos at city hall. Rob Ford (Damian Lewis under a mound of Fat Bastard make-up), the popular 64th Mayor of Toronto, is making headlines for his erratic behavior. Keeping things on course is Kamal (Mena Massoud), spin wizard and special assistant to the mayor, who, it is said, “knows everything.“ A Greek chorus of Steamwhistle-beer-drinking communications folks provide the necessary exposition to explain how they spin bad news and behavior into good news and how to vilify the press.
Back at the newsroom Bram stumbles his way into the wildest political scandal in Toronto history when he happens to pick up the phone and become the first person to find out about “the crack video.“ Can he capitalize on the biggest break of his career and finally put his Frum Award to good use or will he be doomed to write lists forever?
Keep in mind Bernstein and Woodward he is not. The story runs parallel to the reporting done by Bram’s real-life counterparts at The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. More pointedly Robyn Doolittle or Kevin Donovan, the real-life reporters who broke the story are nowhere to be seen or heard.
“Run This Town” is a mix of fact and fiction, of flights of fancy that live at the intersection of real reporting and fake news. A muddle of ripped from the headlines details, innuendo and fiction it takes on the Ford administration’s failings, the state of journalism, millennial angst, sexual harassment and more. Jam packed and lightening-paced it hop scotches around, pausing only long enough to linger on a grotesque caricature of Rob “Show me some respect, will ya?” Ford.
Ford, played by Lewis in a prosthetic suit, fake flab and a stereotypical “oot and aboot” accent, is portrayed as an incoherent buffoon. Misogynistic, racist, paranoid—and those are the good qualities the film grants him—he lurches about the office making inappropriate remarks, prone to fits of sudden temper. It’s an exaggerated interpretation of the mayor but it is also one that is all fat suit and no humanity. Say what you will about Ford’s behavior while in office, and there is much to be said about it, what we see here is larger-than-life without the enough life to make it feel real.