When financially struggling but brilliant Princeton college student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is found out to be breaking college rules with his gambling operation, he bets his savings on an online poker game at Midnight Black so he can earn his college fees. But when he goes bust thanks to what appears to be a scam in the Midnight Black system, he figures he should confront the site's well known and wealthy operator, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) at his lavish Costa Rica headquarters. With help from Block's girlfriend Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), he wangles his way into Block's inner circle and is given a chance to be part of the money making gaming business - but he doesn't realise he's walking into a different game.
Review by Louise Keller:
Risk taking and assessing the odds are the key components of this taut and highly enjoyable thriller in which dreams rely on a dice toss and the foolhardy can be ravaged by crocodiles - symbolic or literal. Wound up with twists of conscience and fear, it's a great yarn and the screenplay by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience) is sticky with tempting scenarios, beautiful people and the ultimate, impossible dream that delivers money, lifestyle and love. Well paced by The Lincoln Lawyer director Brad Furman, the combination of Justin Timberlake as the wannabe protagonist desperate for success and Ben Affleck as the gambling king pin with calculated high risk strategy, is a winning one.
When we meet Justin Timberlake's Richie Furst at Princeton University, we quickly get a sense of his life, trying to make ends meet to pay his fees and achieve his goal as a trader on Wall Street. The successful gambling circuit he has established on campus is his ticket - until now: when he puts everything on the line and he needs to think outside the box. Impulsive audacity leads him to Costa Rica and into the glamorous, extravagant world of Ivan Block (Affleck), where he finds himself living the life of which he has always dreamed. It is hard to forget that first one-to-one meeting between Furst and Block on the latter's luxury cruiser, The House - so called because the house always wins. There is an underlying point when Block tells Furst while chopping freshly caught fish, that he must be prepared to kill what he eats.
We are with Timberlake all the way as he easily slips into his new role in the world of excess and glamour, whose undercurrent is that of bribes and dirty dealings. The lesson he learns is that everybody has something they care about more than money and quickly learns how to manipulate this to his advantage. Not tempted by the sex on offer, Furst's only distraction is Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), who also happens to be Block's personal property. Arterton, stunningly dressed and credible in every aspect regarding her relationships between both men, is terrific. Affleck is darned good - beyond the charm, there is never a single moment in which we are not 100% sure he will carry out any dirty threat he makes. So while we may be shocked at the extent of his manipulations and actions, we are also fascinated by him. There is a subplot too, involving Furst's gambling addict father, providing an additional personal layer.
Offering all the ingredients for a riveting film experience filled with twists and turns, lurches and surprises, Runner Runner is a guilty pleasure of a rollercoaster ride with high stakes. And a satisfying one, at that.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although it's set in the world of offshore gambling, and posits itself as a serious warning against the dangers of easy money etc, etc... Runner Runner isn't really a gambling movie; it's a crime thriller in which a supposedly innocent young player is caught up in a deception. It's a con movie. But it lacks the essential element of a great con movie: the audience must be able to follow the precise details of the con and how it works - even if only at the end. This film doesn't quite manage that, stumbling over detail by a combination of obfuscation and lack of clarity.
That big flaw aside, director Brad Furman does a pretty good job of packaging the story and its elements, from Richie (Justin Timberlake) the bright college student (and ex Wall Street trader) who needs cash for his fees, who has a father with a gambling history, to the sexy Rebecca (Gemma Arterton) at the side of the calmly scheming gambling kingpin, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), and the exotic location of Costa Rica, where money buys you anyone and everything. All true to genre and mainstream filmmaking.
Pace is great, and performances excellent. Timberlake satisfies as the smarter than he looks protagonist with a bendy set of principles, Arterton is a terrific femme fatale and Affleck is affable as the suave and sophisticated manipulator of people and business.
Great support from Anthony Mackie as the FBI agent looking to recruit Richie as an undercover operator in Block's camp, John Heard as Richie’s rather sad father and Yul Vazquez as Herrera, the corrupt and greedy Costa Rican politician - and he's by no means unique. (Will Costa Rica sue for damages?)
Workmanlike but missing that special glue to really involve us (unlike Affleck's The Town, say), Runner Runner is occasionally engaging and sometimes thrilling; just not often enough.
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RUNNER RUNNER (MA15+)
CAST: Ben Affleck, Justine Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, David Costabile, Diana Laura, Jeannine Kaspar
PRODUCER: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
DIRECTOR: Brad Furman
SCRIPT: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mauro Fiore
EDITOR: Jeff McEvoy
MUSIC: Christophe Beck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Charisse Cardenas
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 26, 2013