I went into this remembering my review of District B13. This was another European action film that the mass audience had embraced under the impression that it was “cultured” because it was in a foreign language. But District B13 was a bad action film. It’s reputation was not enough to save it. Run Lola Run is a good action film. It is not really an original one, but it is definitely an absorbing one and actually has enough to say about the typical action schlock coming out of Hollywood on what appears to be a weekly basis.
Run Lola Run is about a woman named Lola who is dating a man named Manni. Manni works as a courier for a mob boss. As he is going to deliver a large amount of money, he loses it on the subway. He now expects the mob to kill him. Lola promises to come up with the money to save his life. The catch is, she has twenty minutes to do it.
Does the film somehow stretch that twenty minutes out into eighty? No. What it does is show three attempts of Lola to get the money. Many will equate its style and structure to Rashomon (or Groundhog’s Day). But, truthfully, it resembles a video game far more than either of those. And that is where the commentary on Hollywood comes in. Action films have been criticized for being too much like video games. That is, they focus on the spectacle more than the people involved in it. As a result, the characters in the films feel less human. Yet video games have remained popular throughout their history. Sometimes, the characters are just as well developed as their cinematic counterparts.
Run Lola Run is the first film that actually feels like a video game where such a critique is meant to be taken as a compliment. Lola does not act like a human. She possesses some sort of superhuman voice that causes her to shatter glass. The films episodic structure feels more like runs through levels rather than different ways to tell the same story. The fact it occurs three times also follows the traditional “three lives” in video games. Or maybe it is just the typical three act structure of films. Either way, it works.
That is the thing to remember. The film could have become a joke. And indeed, on the “first run” I thought it was slowly becoming just that. An exercise of style over substance that is quickly becoming a boring trend. But it works. Lola remains a likable character. I am not sure why though. The film reveals some very personal aspects of her life. Yet she doesn’t remember them or at least never acts like she does. We do though.
Once again, it reminded me of a trend in video games. This trend didn’t exist when the film was made. Maybe the movie was more prescient then it realized. The fact that information about her life is revealed causes her to do drastically different things during each run. A trend in video games introduces choice into each play. Player can do different things. The characters they play do not know the result of their choices. But the players do and make their choices based upon what they know will happen based on their previous actions.
The most notable aspect of this theme regards Lola’s father, a high level employee of a bank. He is the one Lola goes to to get the money. On the first run (spoiler alert) Lola’ s father reveals that he is not her biological father. Lola is devastated and leaves without the money. On the second run, she kidnaps her father in an attempt to coerce the bank to handing over the money. This is a drastically different result. It is almost as though a player is in control of Lola armed with the knowledge that the character is not really her father.
I wish that Hollywood would watch this film. It shows that what they are trying to do is possible. It is possible to create a spectacle based upon the items in a video game. It is possible to create not quite human characters that are still sympathetic. And the spectacle can be seamless in its transition, not jarring. I know I am reviewing this as though it were, in fact, a video game. It feels like one. A very good one. One that should be “played’ over and over again.