Nicolas Cage and Lawrence Fishburne are two actors who have donned many iconic roles over the years. So, when they come together on the screen in the film Running with the Devil (2019), we expect the movie to maintain some standard. But as cinema is a collaborative art form, every department has to do its job correctly. So, having a great bunch of actors is not the only ingredient to making a good motion picture. Running with the Devil falters blatantly in its execution. Thus it becomes nothing but a complete disaster.
Director Jason Cabell takes quite an interesting, unconventional narrative structure for an average crime thriller. Perhaps Cabell (who also writes the screenplay) forgets that the narrative structure is only a blueprint to present the film’s narrative. To give the movie a complete shape, a large amount of substance in the form of character development, plot development, and emotional messaging has to be put into the screenplay. In the case of Running with the Devil, these all are missing. The writing is so messy and heavy-handed that the film becomes nothing but some scenes trying to fit with one another, which fails drastically and is scattered into pieces.
Still, with its unconventional narrative structure, the film sometimes feels interesting. This article is intended to discuss these exciting aspects in detail. So, brace yourself for the detailed explanation of Running with the Devil, and be aware that it will be full of spoilers.
Running with the Devil Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
The film starts with the scene of a man being held naked in a bathroom with his face covered with a sack. Next, a man comes and unties him and staggers him outside. He is then tied to a post and set on fire.
In the next scene, we follow a suited man entering a nightclub. After entering, he gives a small pouch of cocaine to a girl. The girl, with her friend, goes to the washroom and snorts the substance.
The storyline then jumps to a small girl (age five or six) and her early morning household jobs. She brushes her teeth and makes breakfast on her own as if no one else is at home to take care of her. She also waits for the bus all by herself. When the bus comes, she tells the bus driver that she can’t wake them up.
While we are still bewildered by this cryptic dialogue, the next scene introduces us to a DEA agent (referred to throughout the film as ‘Agent in Charge’). She has informed a case of a drug overdose at 22 Charles Street in Seattle. Seems quite worried by hearing this, she rushes to the place. She finds out a dead couple inside the house overdosed on cocaine. Shocked by the sight, she asks for their girl. She finds the girl outside. She is the same girl whom we see earlier in the movie waiting for the bus. She calls ‘Agent in Charge’ as auntie and comes into her arms.
In the next scene, we are taken to a small town in Columbia. There we meet a young girl and her two children. She drops them to school. And when she takes her to leave, she asks the child supervisor to excuse the children earlier for that day as they are going to their farm.
After school, the three head toward the farm. They meet with ‘The Farmer’ (the young girl’s husband) at their farm. ‘The Farmer and his wife work at their farm the whole day. They make raw solidified cocaine cubes from the harvested coca leaves at the end of their day’s work.
Back in Seattle, we are introduced to two new characters – ‘The Cook,’ a food-joint chef, and ‘The Man,’ a horny black drug addict and associate of ‘The Cook.’ Behind the disguise of the chef, ‘The Cook’ is the handler of the drug cartel, which operates the drug trade from South America to Canada. As the last two loads were light and overcut, ‘The Boss,’ ‘The Cook’s superior in this business, asks him to fix the problem. Though unwilling, ‘The Cook’ takes the job.
Meanwhile, ‘The Man’ invites two prostitutes to his house. For the next few days, he enjoys sex and drugs with them. During this time, a young boy, whom we later identified as ‘The Snitch,’ comes to ‘The Man’s house. ‘The Snitch’ finds a new pile of cocaine lying on the table. When asked about it, ‘The Man’ says it is a little experiment he has done with the substances. ‘The Snitch’ tastes it and feels the strong kick out of it. He wants to know more about this. ‘The Man’ says in return that this is a new item and must be hidden from the cartel.
Intending to have sex with the prostitutes (still present at the house), ‘The Snitch’ enters ‘The Man’s bedroom. But there, he finds out that the two prostitutes are overdosed and lying unconscious. He calls ‘The Man’, and the two discover that while one of them is still breathing, the other is dead.
‘The Man’ assigns the task of getting rid of the two prostitutes to ‘The Snitch.’ He also tells him that he will take him under his wing in the cartel once he finishes the job. But ‘The Snitch’ gets caught by the police. ‘Agent in Charge’ takes him to interrogate, but he keeps silent.
Meanwhile, ‘The Farmer’ takes the coke and sets off from his farm to Bogota. He meets with ‘The Cook’ and his other associate, ‘The Executioner.’ ‘The Cook’ pays him and takes the package to Cartagena. There the raw solidified coke is processed into a powder. By the next several days, the coke travels from Columbia to Mexico to the United States with the help of several delivery guys under the supervision of ‘The Cook’ and ‘The Executioner.’
After the coke enters US territory, ‘The Cook’ calls ‘The Man’ to be ready to go with him on the delivery to ‘The Boss’ in Vancouver, Canada. Meanwhile, ‘The Snitch’ agrees to help ‘Agent in Charge’ as he can’t take the interrogation anymore. He tells her everything about ‘The Man.’
Meanwhile, ‘The Man’ calls him and says about his previous conversation with ‘The Cook.’ He also tells him that he (The Snitch) has to come with them this time. Haunted by the death of her sister, ‘Agent in Charge’ is determined this time to capture them red-handed. So, she gives ‘The Snitch’ a tracking device and a phone to get their perfect location.
On the delivery day, ‘The Cook’ comes to ‘The Man’s house and meets with ‘The Snitch.’ While the two are out (The Man and The Snitch), ‘The Cook’ finds out ‘About Man’s new substance. Though enraged, he does nothing at that moment.
On route, ‘The Cook’ finds out about ‘The Snitch’s’ phone. Being suspicious, he opens it and finds out the message from the federal agent. Realizing the conspiracy, he kills ‘The Snitch.’ ‘The Man’ becomes shocked by this incident and can’t believe ‘The Snitch’ betrays him. With the death of ‘The Snitch,’ ‘Agent in Charge’ and her team lose the tracks of ‘The Cook.’
The next day, ‘The Cook’ and ‘The Man’ goes on foot to cross the border. On route, when the ‘The Man’ asks ‘The Cook; about yesterday’s incident, ‘The Cook’ tells ‘The Man’ to be quiet about this matter. He also tells him that he knows about his new drug. ‘The Man’ apologizes for this mishap and tells ‘The Cook’ to end it by killing him. ‘The Cook’ tells him that he is sparing him this time as a gesture of friendship.
On the next day, while they are crossing a river, ‘The Man’ falls into it. Though ‘The Cook’ rescues him, he (The Man) loses his bag pack filled with the load. When they try to find the pack, ‘The Cook’ slips from a ridge. ‘The Man’ catches him before falling off, retrieving his bag pack. But then he lets him fall by losing his grip. With that, he buries his secret about the new drug forever.
Soon, he finds the missing bag pack. He retrieves the load from it and crosses the border to meet ‘The Boss.’ Impressed by his work, ‘The Boss’ sends him to Cartagena to look after the production line.
Meanwhile, due to the two prostitutes’ death, ‘Agent in Charge’ charges ‘The Man’ with double homicide. They track him in Vancouver, but he slips from them by getting off on a plane to Cartagena.
Reaching Cartagena, ‘The Man’ finds out nobody is in the factory (where the cocaine is processed). Then, he is beaten by ‘The Executioner’ and held captive and tortured in a bathroom. This resembles the very first scene of the movie. Now, we realize the man, in the beginning, was actually ‘The Man.’
After he gets staggered out and tied to a post, we see that this whole thing is orchestrated by ‘The Cook.’ We know that after falling from the ridge, he didn’t die but was severely wounded, possibly costing a permanent disability to his walking. He gets help from ‘The Boss’ to recover, and now he is here to make everything all square with ‘The Man.’ He sets him on fire, and when he starts to scream, he shoots him multiple times.
While this is happening, a secret agent from the DEA watches all these things from a distance. He is a close associate of ‘Agent in Charge,’ and he is tailing ‘The Man’ in Cartagena. Watching this brutal execution, he informs this to ‘Agent in Charge.
Back home, ‘The Cook’ returns to his normal life. One day, the ‘Agent in Charge’ visits him. ‘The Cook’ realizes the situation, but he stays calm as he knows there is nothing she can prove to arrest him. So, he taunts her about this. ‘Agent in Charge’ calmly shoots him in return, and we see the lifeless body of ‘The Cook’ in the last shot.
Running with the Devil Movie Ending, Explained:
Will the Drug Trail Ever End?
Running with the Devil is all about the trail of cocaine from its harvest to its supply to the streets. While the authority figures constantly try to disrupt the path, the drug cartel makes sure everything goes by their plan. Both parties are so invested in this cat-and-mouse game that the question becomes prevalent: Where does it end?
At the movie’s end, we see that ‘The Cook’ kills ‘The Man.’ From here, we feel assured that no more deaths will be caused for the new drug that ‘The Man’ has made. So, some resolution comes to the unwanted killings of people buying drugs. But in the bigger picture, does anything resolve at all?
Maybe a piece of the whole picture gets its resolve with ‘The Man’s’ death. But the cartel is still active. And, ‘The Cook’ is an important part of it. So, on that basis, nothing gets disrupted with the killing of ‘The Man’. He was just a pawn in this whole game and nothing matters with his death.
But in the final shot of the movie, ‘The Cook’ is killed by ‘Agent in Charge. So, from the authority figures’ perspective, it can be said that they succeed in disrupting the drug trail by killing one of the handlers. So, in simple words, the drug trail ends there. Or does it?
In the mid-credit scene, we come to the farmer again carrying bag-packs filled with raw coke several times. From this image alone, the director states that the drug trail is still on, and maybe it will never end.