“…an easy watch at any time of the day…”
From the first ten minutes of Runner Runner, I bought what director Brad Furman and writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien were selling. The film is an enticing, if sensationalistic gambling thriller that combines the talents of Justin Timberlake and, dare I say, veteran talents of Ben Affleck to create an appealing if basic film.
Various points in the above paragraph will make readers think I’m a sponsored reviewer or downright delusion. Let them. It seems every year, one film comes along that is victim to either a dreaded limited release or obnoxiously bad reviews and suffers a strong lack of viewership because of that. Runner Runner will likely be gone from theaters in a matter of two weeks, and will be in the back of people’s heads within the coming months of film, but for a quick ninety-minute ride, it’s smart enough in the regard that it knows what instruments to play in terms of keeping a viewer intrigued and alert.
Timberlake, who has seen a much less active two years since 2011 saw three films from him, plays Richie Furst, a soul who once had a lucrative career on Wall Street and a say in high-stakes gambling. Because of this, he has become a person to watch at Princeton University, where he is currently attending. He must work to pay his tuition money all by himself, which has proven to be a challenge with limited access and resources of financial gambling. He manages to attract people to an offshore gambling site called Midnight Black, which is run by notorious gambling tycoon Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) in Costa Rica.
When Richie finds himself hustled and scammed out of thousands of dollars on Block’s site, he flies to Costa Rica to confront the man and get back the money for his tuition. Block recognizes Richie’s obvious commitment to such an action and the maturity of how he handled the problem, and, in addition to refunding his account, Block decides to give Richie a position at the forefront of the gambling action. This involves mixing in with Costa Rica’s high-stakes bookies, lavish party scenes, and the immensity of the underworld as it sits today.
For a college student in dire need of money for tuition, Richie is blindsided by the luxury and the promise of an eight-figure salary in a limited time to truly consider the dangers and the hell that could unfold from making this move. He agrees and now is Block’s prodigy. This immediately makes him an attraction for corrupt FBI Agent Shafers (Anthony Mackie), who is trying to find ways to double-cross both Block and Richie (while using Richie, mind you) and take down the empire.
It helps that the film is briskly-paced and moves quickly, but it also would’ve helped if the film had slowed down and took more time to detail relationships and personalities before jumping into much of the action. The prologue with Richie at Princeton in the beginning moves by far too quickly and he is on a plane to Costa Rica in ten minutes before we can get a sense of his life there and his apparent skills as a young marketing-man. By the time we see Block and Richie become great friends, backstabbing has already been committed and it’s hard to see through back to the friendship to feel something emotionally.
With that being said, Affleck and Timberlake simply click here. Both are actors that receive considerable amount of praise and complaints from audiences, but both men know how to make a seemingly tepid story click. Timberlake truly assisted The Social Network in being a lively internet-thriller about one of the most powerful social-networks in existence, and Affleck made the seemingly predictable thriller Argo a Best Picture winner through intelligent acting and directorial craft. Runner Runner shows both talents truly can take the driest topic and make it into a film worth watching solely by their presence. Both fit like a glove in their respective roles.
Not to mention, it’s nice to see a thriller that exercises its right to have big stars, be pretty straight-forward, unburdened by opus-length or dry patches, and an easy watch at any time of the day. Runner Runner is a different tune than Prisoners, which I still feel is the crowning achievement of thrillers this year for its masterful qualities in every field of film. Runner Runner is a breezier watch, one for the moviegoer looking for entertainment. Many say I over-analyze and think to deeply about film. Finally, I’m recommending a film solely for it being entertaining and fun.
Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic
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