At some point, Twilight star Taylor Lautner will need to push himself further than his impressive abs, and he makes a concerted effort to begin that process in Run the Tide. Alongside TV veterans Constance Zimmer and Kenny Johnson and with newcomer Nico Christou, Lautner is a stable-enough centerpiece, not particularly nuanced but impressive in certain moments. He’s leaving Jacob behind, slowly but surely, and Run the Tide is an acceptable step forward.
Directed by Soham Mehta and written by Rajiv Shah, Run the Tide focuses on the mid-20s Reymund (Lautner) and his younger brother, the 10-year-old Oliver (Christou). Their relationship isn’t perfect—they curse at each other (“If you’re gonna give me shit this morning...” Rey threatens Oliver), and they keep each other on edge—but the real point of contention is their diametrically opposed viewpoints on their mother, Lola (Zimmer).
To Oliver, Lola is the key to their family; even though she’s been in prison on drug-related charges for six years, he thinks her return will immediately set things right. He’s too young to know better. Rey, though, remembers what Lola is like—her disappearances, how often she came home high, her verbal and physical abuse—and as Oliver’s primary caretaker since Lola was incarcerated, he wants nothing to do with her. But when he learns that she is going to be released in a few days, his anxiety and frustration ratchets up another level. “He’s my brother, and I’m the one that raised him,” he tells Lola, and he refuses to believe that she could take Oliver away.
But the reality is that she could, and that Oliver would probably want to go, because Rey hasn’t told him everything about Lola’s previous behavior and because Oliver himself is so desperate for stability and a traditional definition of “family.” Former stepfather Bo (Johnson) sees both sides, telling Rey that everyone, even Lola, deserves a second chance, but he has no answer for Rey when he points out that he “never even had a first chance” because of Lola’s terrible decisions. There are no easy characterizations here, and no easy choices—but it’s clear, when Rey decides to lie to Oliver and take him to the California coast as a way to escape Lola, that the kidnapping isn’t going to go well.
What happens next is part road-trip movie, part identity crisis, part family tragedy, with Rey realizing that practically every element of his life—including his failed relationship with former high school sweetheart Michelle (Johanna Braddy)—is tainted by his relationship with Lola, his concern for Oliver, and his postponement of himself. That’s a lot for any actor to convey, and Lautner retreats a little too often into panicked yelling and pained glares. But his interactions with Christou, who plays Oliver as casually foul-mouthed and particularly bratty, feel genuine and believable, especially as they escalate into volatility.
The same goes for the chemistry between Zimmer and Johnson, who as they trail Rey and Oliver slowly offer insights into their own emotions and struggles during their marriage and Lola’s incarceration. A scene where Lola puts on lipstick before getting in bed, only to realize that Bo is choosing to sleep on the floor, simultaneously shows Lola’s hopes and her dashed optimism. Johnson does well, too, delivering a real gut punch with the lines “They always had each other. Now you want to take that too”—a mixture of exhaustion and wariness that hints at a deep history between the pair and the shadowy days of their marriage.
And although an inevitable reconciliation scene plays out somewhat stereotypically in terms of apologies and forgiveness, Run the Tide makes the right choice by swerving away from a tidy, happy ending. The cruel things Rey and Oliver do to each other, in the name of love and protection, can’t be easily forgotten, and the pain and conflict the film has brought upon its characters wouldn’t be easily remedied with a group hug and a family road trip into the sunset.
Run the Tide makes some expected choices (Lola learns about honesty and forgiveness in prison support groups; Michelle is self-involved in a way that brings to mind Rey’s mother) and the narrative indulges a bit too often in Oliver’s selfish demands, but this is a good showing for Lautner. In a film that is thoughtful without being groundbreaking, Lautner is suitable without being showy. His performance, like Run the Tide itself, is good for what it is.