Runner Runner

Posted October 3, 2013 by in


Total Score

1.5/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: crime drama
Director: Brad Furman
MPAA Rating: R
Actors: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: 10/4/2013
Studio: Appian Way, Double Feature Films, New Regency Pictures, Stone Village Pictures
What We Thought

Runner Runner bets it all on plot, but sorely overestimates its hand.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
There is nothing wrong with a plot-driven movie, not necessarily.  The problem with Runner Runner, though, is that it’s a plot-driven movie with a predictable plot and little else going for it.
     The plot of Runner Runner concerns Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a Princeton student who loses all of his tuition money gambling on an online casino called Midnight Black.  After running some numbers, Richie realizes that he didn’t just lose–he was scammed.
     Stop right there, and think.  Someone is responsible, someone in particular had to have done it.  Who could that be? The answer to that question is obvious long before it’s revealed.
     Richie flies to Costa Rica, headquarters of Midnight Black, where he confronts its founder and CEO, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), an American ex-patriot wanted by the FBI.  After presented with evidence, Ivan explains that some of his former programmers had left a back door for themselves into the site that allowed them to play the game while seeing opposing players’ cards.
     Ivan offers Richie his money back, and something better:  a job working for him.  Richie, seduced by the prospect of money and material gain, becomes Ivan’s protégé, and falls under the shady CEO’s influence.
     Meanwhile, Richie begins an affair with Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton), another employee of Ivan’s, with whom she has a more personal history.
     The romance between Richie and Rebecca is as mechanical as a slot machine and as rewarding as the wheel landing on CHERRY-7-LEMON.  The romance is too easy, and lacks the tension of clashing personality-types, or the harmony of two people made for one another.  Then again, one can’t have chemistry with a personality that is not there; Rebecca is an empty shell of a character that’s also inessential to the story.
     Richie has a pair of friends, one hefty and the other British, that don’t get further development, who should have been consolidated into a single character.  The British one decides to leave, and the hefty one decides to stay with Ivan.  I won’t spoil what happens next, but it’s not hard to guess.
     Performance-wise, Affleck is going for an over-the-top comic villain as Ivan, but is better suited to the comic part of that description.  Timberlake has modest comic potential as an actor, but plays it overall straight.
     The discrepancy between performances creates tonal problems.  Affleck is too goofy for a gritty heist film, and Timberlake is too earnest for a caper, the difference between the two being the latter subgenre’s implied levity.
     Exposition in Runner Runner is dumped through an intermittent voice-over delivered by Timberlake.  It’s common for film noirs such as this to begin and end with narration, but it’s gone for so long after the beginning of the film that it’s jarring when it suddenly fades in an out during the middle as needed, lazily telling us what we need to know, rather than telling us what Richie is feeling and thinking.
     Which would have helped explain why an otherwise principled young man like Richie would participate in creating a compromising situation for a married man, in order to blackmail him into taking a job from Ivan.  A sharp character turn, indeed.
     The lighting design has the foreboding look a crime film like this needs, especially in scenes where Affleck’s character is concerned, and the tropical location and its young, attractive inhabitants are nice to look at, if nothing else.  But these are superficial pleasures.  Affleck’s performance provides a few laughs, but otherwise, Runner Runner bets it all on plot, but sorely overestimates its hand.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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