Fact or Fiction? A Comparison.
by Courtney Shea | Toronto Life | March 6, 2020
It’s been 10 years since Rob Ford rode his gravy train all the way into the mayor’s office. From the start, his reign was mired in scandals and stupors, but things reached international-talk-show-punchline levels with rumours of a video that showed him smoking crack. This regrettable slice of city lore is the basis of Run This Town, a new movie out Friday starring Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Ford, and co-starring Nina Dobrev and Mena Massoud. The drama centres around the hunt for the elusive video, and for those of us who lived through Crackgate, the story will feel familiar…sort of. Real-life events are the inspiration, but like a certain erstwhile mayor, writer and director Ricky Tollman has taken more than a few liberties with the truth. Here’s our (very spoilery) analysis of truths and post-truths in the film.
Real life: The most significant deviation from actual events is the movie’s gender-swapped protagonist. In March 2013, Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle received an anonymous call from a source with access to the crack-smoking Ford video. She viewed the footage in an Etobicoke parking lot a month later.
Run This Town: In the movie, the hungry young reporter chasing the crack video is 20-something journalism grad Bram Shriver (Ben Platt). Doolittle tweeted about the surprising gender swap when the movie was first announced: “I’m glad they’re rewriting the fact that it was a female reporter who investigated Rob Ford. Why have a woman be a lead character when a man could do it? Ammaright?” In response, Tollman said that his movie tells a different story: one that uses the Ford crack scandal to explore millennial entitlement and male privilege. It was, per Tollman, inspired by his own brother’s post–journalism school experience.
Real life: The Star was the paper at the centre of the Crackgate scandal, though the video was ultimately scooped by Gawker, which published a written account of the video in May 2013.
Run This Town: Bram works at a fictional paper called the Record, reporting to an extremely cranky mid-level editor named David (Scott Speedman). In the film, the Star and the Globe also exist. When the story finally comes out, it’s on an unnamed website—a stand-in for Gawker. It’s unclear what purpose the Record serves as a plot device, since Bram could have just as easily worked at one of the real papers. Maybe because it’s because most real newsroom editors don’t look like Scott Speedman.
Real life: Ford was famously scruffy and unkempt—it was part of his Average Joe persona, but also down to his penchant for after-hours (and during-hours) debauchery. And while he grew up posh in Etobicoke, his accent was curiously blue-collar Ontario.
Run This Town: Hunky Brit Damian Lewis is totally unrecognizable in a fat suit and extensive prosthetics. The result captures Ford’s signature dishevelment. Playing the mayor in party-mode is where Lewis does his best work. A scene where he hosts an after-party at his office will probably feel familiar to anyone who worked at City Hall during the Ford administration. As for the accent, Lewis worked with a voice coach to pull off a convincing hoser-lite, but at times it sounds more East Coast than outskirts of Toronto.