Running in Movies — Showing Character as Well as Story

Posted on May 11, 2020 at 8:00 am

Great piece by James Parker in The Atlantic about how actors use running styles to show character in movies. Well, most actors.

Running in movies is always toward danger or away from it. No one in movies is ever just running.

And like ballet dancers, the great runners in movies express character through movement, through the whirling and thumping of their limbs. Matt Damon, as Jason Bourne, is a brain-wiped super-soldier having an identity crisis, so he runs like a frightened washing machine. Carrie-Anne Moss, as Trinity in The Matrix, runs like an equation from the future—which is what she is. Harrison Ford in his prime had a distinctive bowled-over running style: Look at him in The Fugitive, blundering and floundering and grimacing and reeling, an everyman dislodged—as if by an explosion—from the everyday, knocked out of his life, and frowningly, head-buttingly determined to get back in there.

(Tom Cruise is different. Whatever part he’s playing, Jerry Maguire or Jack Reacher, he runs like Tom Cruise, with piston knees and piston elbows and the face of an angry Christ. And that’s okay.)

Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, pounding around the burbs with a garbage bag sort of medievally layered over his hoodie, is jogging. People do jog in movies, for fitness—but interiorly, as they jog along, they’re still firmly located on that into-trouble/​out-of-trouble axis. They’re still going one way or the other. Cooper is running—so he hopes—away from madness.

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