Wednesday 29 November 2017

Movie Review: Runner Runner (2013)

A drama thriller set in the world of gambling, Runner Runner deals a potentially intriguing hand but folds early.

Richie Furst (geddit? played by Justin Timberlake) is a financially struggling mature student at Princeton. Richie was on the fast track to Wall Street wealth when the 2008 financial crisis destroyed his prospects. Now he makes money on the side by channeling fellow Princeton students to online gambling sites. Threatened with expulsion, Richie tries to win his entire tuition playing online poker on the Midnight Black site. He loses everything, but not before spotting signs of a sophisticated cheating scam.

Richie travels to Costa Rica and confronts Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the charismatic head of the Midnight Black online gambling empire, with proof of the scam. Impressed, Ivan offers Richie a job, and the money starts pouring in. Richie meets and starts a relationship with Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), one of Ivan's associates, but also starts to get exposure to the dark underbelly of Ivan's business, including massive extortion of local Costa Rican officials and dodging threats from FBI Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie).

Directed by Brad Furman, Runner Runner has the kernels of a good story, even carrying echoes of no less a classic than Gilda. The film looks slick, capturing the vivid decadence of life with the super rich operating marginally legal but massively profitable gambling businesses from off shore havens. Furman mixes glitz and glamour with earthy Costa Rican surroundings, and Runner Runner is nothing if not a colourful and visually immersive experience.

Furman also deserves credit for avoiding the temptation to suddenly turn Furst into any kind of action hero. Runner Runner remains reasonably grounded in reality, and the thriller elements are drawn from a battle of wits and influence, rather than the more typical surge into cheap action.

But little else works. Timberlake offers bored and unnecessary narration, and the story only starts off with promise. It is quickly apparent that little will actually be explained, and so the nature of Furst's job with Block is incoherent, the relationship between Rebecca and Ivan is barely sketched in, and Richie has a couple of buddies who seem to be essential to the story but hardly register. Richie's father (John Heard) pokes his head into the margins of the story, seemingly from a whole other movie.

The deeper the film gets into the sub-plot of grafting local politicos, FBI Agent Shavers' hissing agenda, and the inner workings of Ivan's business and his grand plan, the less useful information is provided. By the time the third act arrives and true colours start to be revealed, it's impossible to care about any of the characters.

The performances are predictably stoic. Timberlake maintains the same tone throughout, Affleck mails in an easy turn as the slick mover and shaker, and Arterton is never quite sure what her role in the movie really is.

Runner Runner starts with a decent sprint but quickly runs out of steam.

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