Tom Tykwer is a director who I have had mixed experiences with in the past. I thought the Cloud Atlas (2012) adaptation that he and the Wachowskis served up was a pretty incredible achievement, both story wise and visually. But the only solo film of his I have see in the past is Winter Sleepers (1997), which left me pretty underwhelmed. As a solo director thought, Tykwer is best known for the non-linear Run Lola Run (1998), which I have finally gotten around to checking out.
The titular Lola spends basically the entire film running around, trying to get her boyfriend Manni out of some trouble he has landed in with a bunch of gangsters. Lola needs cash and she needs it stat. That is pretty much it for storyline. With Run Lola Run the real guts of the film comes from the telling, not the story. There are a bunch of video game stylings in the film, something that I think is very hard to pull off effectively. These range from standard ones that we are used to such as editing and game style introductions of characters, to ones that I hadn’t seen before. Most notable of these I think is the narrative structure, which is quite literally that of a video game, with Lola having a number of ‘lives’ to complete her mission. The film is best when focusing on its tightly defined core narrative or to use a quite apt video game analogy, the ‘mission’ that Lola is attempting to complete. The film is not successful when it branches outside of that, which it does often when the futures of people that Lola passes on her run are told using still images. This conceit really does not work as it takes you out of the core narrative that the audience should be so caught up in. Not only that, but the fact that something utterly amazing happens to each of these people just after they cross paths with Lola is totally unbelievable. And even though the style and narrative of the film is hyper-real, this still jars. In the end these sequences just play like twee, ham-fisted attempted illustrations of the butterfly effect.
From the very beginning, time is a theme of the film, with gothic looking clocks looming over the screen. Thematically time is usually used in a broad sense – a person’s finite amount of time on earth and how they use it. Run Lola Run though considers time at a much more micro level, one that is relatable day to day. The rush of a work deadline or to try and catch a bus. Of course the film takes that notion to an extreme, helped along the way by pulsing, hyper techno music that drives you along the whole way through. Performance-wise, both Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu are really good. Potente carries the film as Lola as she is in essentially every scene. She does a really good job of nailing the panic and determination of her character in helping out her boyfriend. I am a fan of a number of Bleibtreu’s other performances such as in Fatih Akin’s In July (2000) and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (1997) which is one of my favourite comedies of all time. He impresses again here in a bit of a thankless role, at least convincing us why Lola would fight so hard for him. It is important that the both of them are good too, because in the end the film is a nice balance of relationship drama as well as action thriller. However I think unfortunately that some of the ending of the film muddles the message a little. What we are meant to take from the casino scene I am not sure – life is nothing but chance? Gambling is good? Always bet on #20 in roulette? No idea. It was always going to be a difficult film to bring to an entirely satisfying close. But I can’t help wish that Tykwer managed something a little more emphatic.
When it sticks close to its innovative narrative structure, intriguing video game flourishes and focused story, Run Lola Run is both interesting and at times innovative. The occasions where it goes outside of that structure were less successful for me, and it is perhaps not tense enough to be a truly great thriller, but this is still a film experience worth taking at least once.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
2014 Progress: 4/101