Runner, Runner (2013)
“You have no idea who you’re playing with.”
Director: Brad Furman
Cast: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton
Synopsis: When a poor college student who cracks an online poker game goes bust, he arranges a face-to-face with the man he thinks cheated him, a sly offshore entrepreneur.
I don’t really understand all the hate Runner, Runner received upon its release, and can only assume it’s down to unreasonably high expectations based on the strength of the cast, director, writing team and producer. Runner, Runner isn’t a great movie by any means, but neither is it a bad one — it’s just a mediocre one that’s tainted by the overpowering suspicion that it could have been really good had nearly all involved just put in a little more effort.
Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits) plays Richie Furst, a Princeton student who finances his studies by working as an affiliate for Midnight Black, an online poker and casino. When the university gets wind of Furst’s extra-curricular activities it issues him with an ultimatum: pack it in or get out. In desperation, Furst decides to gamble all he has in an all-night poker session on the site, but of course he loses it all. However, his nerdy friend, Cronin (Oliver Cooper) discovers that the site actually cheated, so Furst gets on a plane to Costa Rica in order to confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck — Smokin’ Aces), the multi-millionaire owner of the site.
Now you and me wouldn’t get within half-a-mile of Block, but we don’t look like Justin Timberlake, who looks good in a white suit and is capable of attracting the attention of a woman like Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton — Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), Block’s right-hand woman who slips Furst a pass to one of Block’s legendary parties. The confrontation doesn’t go well at first, with Furst being forcibly ejected from the party, but the following morning he finds himself invited onto Block’s yacht where he receives an apology from the man and an offer of a job, which he readily accepts. However, it’s not long before Furst starts having misgivings about Block’s dubious business techniques, but by the time he decides to get out, he finds all the exits blocked.
At 91 minutes long, Runner, Runner is that rare example of a movie that isn’t given enough time to tell its tale — which suggests that there was perhaps some kind of problem in post —production. There’s no denying that none of the main characters are allotted the amount of time necessary to add the required depth to their character. Ben Affleck gets over this through the force of his performance — he seems to be carving out a niche for himself as sleazy but charismatic bad guys — but Timberlake lacks the acting chops to overcome the blandness of his character, while Arterton has the thankless task of trying to breathe life into a character to whom writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien have given virtually no thought whatsoever; to call her character a cardboard cut-out really is too complimentary.
This lack of attention to detail is also evident in the story, with important secondary characters like Anthony Mackie’s (Gangster Squad, Pain & Gain) FBI Agent Shaver too infrequently seen on screen, and key incidents given short shrift. A narrated montage sequence immediately after Furst accepts Block’s offer of employment gives only a superficial insight into the seductive nature of Block and his lifestyle, and Furst seems to hear alarm bells ringing with unseemly haste. Too much happens off-screen. It’s a shame, because given that there’s nothing new about the storyline, had Koppelman and Levien worked harder at breathing some life into their key characters they could have fashioned a decent movie, as it is, all they’ve done is create an ordinary one with obvious unrealised potential.