Runner Runner (2013)

Director:  Brad Furman
Cast:  Ben AffleckJustin TimberlakeGemma Arterton
Plot:  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.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  91min
Rating:  M18 (cut theatrical version!) for language and some sexual content.

IN RETROSPECT (Guest Review by Raymond Tan)
Runner Runner features a potent – if not particularly original – zeitgeist-critiquing premise.  It’s ostensibly about the ills of capitalism, gambling, and selling out – and in this era where income inequality is escalating and financial crime is prevalent, that’s a premise ripe full of social commentary.

Unfortunately for the film, it sells itself out, trading any deep insight into the internet-gambling phenomenon for cheap, schlocky thrills, and a typically pleasing Hollywood ending.  Not that thrills are a bad thing, of course.  And Runner Runner on occasions delivers those nail-biting, muscle-clenching moments in spades.

For the most part, though, it goes through its standard, lacklustre action-thriller paces, using frenetic editing and episodic plot twists to constantly churn out narrative momentum and suspense – and that works, until you realize at the end that the plot twists don’t even make that much sense anymore.

Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a Princeton undergrad who is made to shut down an online business promoting e-gambling, a venture he started to fund his studies.  Being the smart, calculative, and risk-taking young hot shot that he is, he takes to gambling his own savings in a bid to win enough to pay his school fees.   Unfortunately, he loses it all to the rigged online gambling site run by Tom Block (Ben Affleck), a typically smarmy, vaguely charming sociopath, whom Richie later visits to demand his lost money back.

Runner Runner goes down some very predictable turns, and is reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street movies, whereby a talented, driven young man finds a brilliant, ruthless, mentor to school him in the ways of the world.  Ambition triumphs over integrity for the first half of the movie, and Richie is made to compromise on his values and commit morally dubious actions before he realizes the error of his ways and finds a way to redeem himself.

Justin Timberlake has decent acting chops, even if he’s still not entirely believable as a charismatic leading man.  Affleck may be mocked often for his square, oft emotionally-challenged acting, but he’s perfect for the part of Block, delivering the smarminess, the arrogance, and the general coldness of the character very well.

Runner Runner never really has anything much to say beyond some trite, over-familiar truths:  that money and power corrupts, that love and family are more important than material goods.  The writing’s also lacking in many ways, such as how it tries to conveniently close off plot holes with deus ex machinas.  It’s a pretty silly movie, and one whose world is difficult to truly get invested in, but if all you want are cheap thrills, you won’t be completely disappointed.


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