What goes around – Runner Runner review

Runner Runner

By Simon Miraudo
September 26, 2013

Runner Runner marks a momentous occasion: the handing of the ‘generic, handsome actor’ baton from Ben Affleck to Justin Timberlake. (A similar thing happened in 2003’s Welcome to the Jungle, when outgoing, big-screen heavy Arnold Schwarzenegger told burgeoning big guy Dwayne Johnson, “Have fun.”) There will be no parade for this transition; no TIME magazine cover announcing the changing of the guard. Its two parties probably won’t even acknowledge it publicly. But this is a cultural moment, people. Electrifying pop sensation Justin Timberlake’s new career priority involves playing the personality-free dude in sub-par thrillers, while former Reindeer Games victim Ben Affleck is leaving that world behind to polish his Oscars, collect acclaim as an auteur, and be Batman. One day, our kids will ask where we were when we first saw Runner Runner. That, or it’ll get lost in the annals of time; caught between the metaphorical couch-cushions of The Firm and Boiler Room.

Timberlake stars as Richie Furst, a Princeton student who risks every last cent (approximately $17,000) in an evening of intense online gambling, with the intention of tripling his savings and paying his full college tuition. Instead, he’s taken to the cleaners by some covert cheaters. Affleck plays Ivan Block, the multimillionaire owner of the site that emptied Richie’s wallet, holed up in Costa Rica where the Feds can’t touch him. Richie infiltrates one of Block’s elaborate shindigs to inform him of the undercover grifters in his midst, and he’s rewarded with a plum position under his wing. Within months, Princeton is a distant memory. Block gifts Richie with everything he’s ever dreamed of: palatial digs, an endless supply of cash, and even his business partner, Rebecca (played by a carotene-abundant Gemma Arterton).

Runner Runner

The director of Runner Runner is Brad Furman, a fact I didn’t mention above because, well, this probably could have been directed by anyone. Furman made an art out of these kinds of movies with his 2011 effort The Lincoln Lawyer, simultaneously rescuing Matthew McConaughey’s career from the land of shirtless ghosts and whispers and reigniting audience passion for this very ’90s genre of crime flick. He did so with stylistic savvy, and was aided by an impressive supporting cast. Furman attracts similar talent this time around too, bringing in the always appealing Anthony Mackie as the unhinged FBI agent trying to get Richie to turn on his boss, and (Sharknado’s own) John Heard as Richie’s addict dad. Also to Furman’s credit is how beautiful this picture looks (though cinematographer Mauro Fiore is responsible as well). One shot in particular, at Block’s party, can barely contain the phantasmagoric light-show being conducted by the swirling carnival rides and circus entertainers within it. Stunning.

The screenplay, less so. Penned by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, it’s hard to tell if their script was savaged by editors trying to keep the final product under ninety minutes, or by their own inabilities as screenwriters. There are massive leaps of logic here, and resolutions that make little to no sense. Also disappointing is how quickly the feature abandons the actually-fascinating world of online gambling and statistical analysis. (Okay, maybe that last bit is only fascinating to Nate Silver and I, but still.) Though there’s a nice ‘a-ha’ ending, what comes before is flat and familiar. The only person seemingly less concerned with the plot than the writers is their star, Timberlake. He’s grown significantly as an actor, and yet, until he’s given a part that truly tests him, his nascent talent will be snuffed by under-cooked characters.

Runner Runner

Runner Runner does have one wild card up its sleeve, however, and it’s Ben Affleck (the first time the words ‘wild’ or ‘card’ have ever been uttered in relation to Ben Affleck). It’s a rare villainous part for him, and he takes to it with gusto, getting the film’s best and funniest and meanest lines, delivered after dropping adversaries into croc-infested waters, or while demanding employees take beatings on his behalf. As Affleck has gotten older, he’s moved away from those Richie Furst roles and branched out into more interesting fare. I still prefer him behind the camera. That said, we’re getting to see a reinvigorated, slightly more compelling side to Affleck now that he’s in his forties. It’s just a shame the rest of Runner Runner isn’t quite as fun or fascinating as his performance.

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

Runner Runner is now in cinemas.

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