Director: Brad Furman
Writers: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton
Synopsis: Talented and involved with gambling, Rickie (Timberlake) decides to bet for his entire university funds. At the end of the long game he loses and thinks it’s all foul play. Seeking out the owner of the poker website Ivan Block, (Affleck) he makes a good impression and becomes one of Block’s employees. Swimming with sharks, Rickie starts seeing red waters and sensing danger to a point where he starts questioning his new lifestyle.
Taking on the odds is a risk few care to take. At the core of Runner Runner’s thematic is the party-life and perils of gambling. It’s a dark premise lightened by sunny, sexy sheen of the film, yet maintaining some elements of authentic tension and malice.
Perhaps unbelievable for some cinema-goers, the best feature of Runner Runner is man-of-the-moment Ben Affleck. He adds the aforementioned malice, playing a seemingly charitable casino owner (yes, that oxymoronic quality works) who uses his power cruelly at points. Affleck has not played a villain for a number of years and it’s clear to see him relishing the opportunity. There’s a casual cockiness to his performance, easing back from his multi-awarding winning directorial efforts with a persistent smirk. Affleck as the supporting actor will be under a lot of scrutiny – this being his first role since the Batman announcement – and this extraneous aspect is actually quite fun to think about during the film. He pulls everything off and gets many of the best lines and scenes so it’ll hopefully put a halt to all the hate.
On the whole it seems all cast members are relishing the high-budget and location work. Whereas this type of money-laden project would result in some laziness (acting, directing, editing, etc) everyone seems on form here. Timberlake continues to prove his multi-million dollar worth both in music and acting, leading the film confidently. It may be that it’s not a humongous stretch for him to play a young go-getter but there’s never a misstep in his acting. Arguably, he gets very few demanding scenes but that’s a wrong on the writer’s half rather than his.
The third and most glamorous cast member is Gemma Arterton. Very British in her ways (with a brief mention of beans and toasts added in for her character), Arterton never seems out of place in the glitzy Hollywood startlett role. If anything, she overshadows past American actresses attempting the same. Her style of acting is subtle and sincere, whilst her beauty is enhanced only by sublime genes and some (possibly fake) tanning. Whether or not her character was originally penned as a token dame, Arterton adds strength and depth. It’s a shame that she is eclipsed by various plot points that don’t involve her as her screen presence boils down to a measly 40 or so minutes.
Plot-wise the film is slightly above average. It’s exploring multifaceted criminality but, like most Hollywood dramas, dilutes it down for a general demographic. The stars will be enough to draw in the crowds and for that reason the writers and director have subtracted a lot of the profound elements. So for an easy, entertaining watch it’ll check most of the boxes.
***Also posted on LiveForFilms