'Runner Runner' (2013) Movie Review

Runner Runner movie review
Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck in Runner Runner
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Runner Runner is talking loud and saying nothing, and to think it's only 91 minutes long and feels as if it's three hours doesn't help. Even worse is how good this film could have been and how great Ben Affleck is at slow-playing not only Justin Timberlake's character, but the audience as well. There's a lot of smarts behind the screenplay, perhaps too much, and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) knows what he's doing when it comes to developing his characters and playing the audience, but it ultimately becomes less a thriller and more a waiting game and a boring one at that. The only spark of life the film ever has is to watch Affleck's character slowly turn from a welcoming mentor to an alligator obsessed overlord. Too bad when I say "slowly" I mean slooooooooooowly.

Runner Runner
Grade: C-

Runner Runner"Runner Runner" is a 20th Century Fox release, directed by Brad Furman and is rated R for language and some sexual content. The running time is .

The cast includes Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Ben Schwartz, Oliver Cooper, Yul Vazquez and Bob Gunton.

Using voice over, Timberlake introduces us to his character, Richie Furst, a Princeton grad student promoting online gambling at school and using the commission to pay his tuition until he's called out by the Dean and told to stop immediately or say "bye, bye, bye" to his days as a Princeton student. Being one of those "all or nothing" kind of characters who needs to crash and burn in order to advance the plot, Richie empties his $17,000 worth of savings into an online gambling account and ultimately loses all of it only to learn he was cheated.

The owner of the site that cheated him, Ivan Block (Affleck), is wanted by the FBI for some illegal activity as he lives in the lap of luxury in Costa Rica where he can't be touched. Knowing of Block, Richie sees his recent embarrassment as an opportunity to get in Ivan's good graces. He could call out his site for cheating him publicly, but believes if he takes it to Block personally, perhaps it could get him a little further ahead. It does.

Ivan appears to welcome Richie into his good graces, offers him a job, uses his talents for his own gain all the while we know the other shoe must drop. It's just a matter of when.

Despite the awful character name, Affleck does well in the role as it's the only character in the film with any kind of arc. Timberlake's Richie is too dull to care much about. He's obviously got the smarts and he's using them to advance his "career", but by the time the story must take it's turn and begin moving things along we don't care enough about Richie or his plight. I kept thinking of how Jacques Audiard developed his protagonist in A Prophet, slowly getting him deeper and deeper into the shit before suddenly he was the man to be feared. Runner Runner isn't looking to end in such a dark fashion (in fact, they wasted the R-rating entirely), but it also has none of the intrigue or nuance either, creating a half-sympathetic character who can't see the forest for the trees. By the time he does begin taking matters into his own hands you begin to wish he'd been doing so from the beginning, but they wanted to paint the character as more of a goody-goody rather than anything more nefarious. Too bad.

As for Gemma Arterton, she's clearly the female eye candy of the film, adding little else to the proceedings outside of being the one to go to for tickets, whether it's just needing to get into a party or book a couple flights. Otherwise, she serves little purpose.

Written by Rounders scribes Brian Koppelman and David Levien I expected much more from Runner Runner. The screenplay is written in much the same way as Rounders, loaded with voice over bringing us into the lead protagonist's frame of mind, but strongly lacking in any measure of intrigue or excitement. For a thriller the film is rarely, if ever, thrilling and hardly has a pulse outside of a couple of Affleck's scenes and Anthony Mackie as an overzealous FBI agent that grows tiresome really quickly.

Director Brad Furman impressed with The Lincoln Lawyer a couple years back, starting Matthew McConaughey on his new track of being a bonafide dramatic actor. Here he manages to do a nice job with an initial slow play of his narrative and getting the audience comfortable with a villain that would soon come back to bite Richie in the ass, but the second act is so long and drawn out the film never reaches any kind of a high, but rather flatlines to a dull and predictable end.


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  • BradyD

    What a shame. I thought this movie had a lot of potential given the director and the cast...oh well. I still may catch it for a $5 Tuesday screening.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    I wasn't really looking forward to this all that much anyway, I always figured it wouldn't be very good.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I know it probably sounds unfair but I caught the trailer for this recently and even that left me totally uninterested. I already kind of know already this is film I'll likely never see due to total and utter disinterest.

  • http://cineenuruguay.com/ Driver

    I`m on the C/C+ level on this one. It's not that bad, it's just that it should be much better. I agree with you about Mackie, he's one note and doesn't do much.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    Glad to hear Ben Affleck does well in it regardless. All the pointless negativity around the Batman casting made me feel bad for him.

  • kane kruger

    Actually want to see this mostly because of affleck's performance

  • http://timeforafilm.com Alex Thomas

    I quite enjoyed this, although it is definitely not a thriller which is a shame, more of a chilled-out film. What I loved about the film is something you haven't mentioned at all in the Poker and to a lesser extent, sports-betting elements.

    I think to say he emptied his savings into a 'gambling' account shows that you perhaps don't appreciate or understand the Poker concept of the film that much (sounds like I'm having a dig Brad, but I'm not). The main Poker scene in this film is fantastic and full of plenty of concepts hardcore Poker players would be familiar with. It makes those scenes of the film extra exciting, which is perhaps why I think most found the film so slow, as they didn't connect with those scenes.

    One of the main focal points of the film (well, the first half anyway) was the concept of Sports betting and I feel this was looked over very quickly by everyone. I adore Timberlake's opening line: "Everybody gambles. If you risk anything, your gambling." Perhaps it was due to little things like this that I enjoyed the film as it tried to deal with the gambling stigma or at least present the other side of the table's view.

    And I loved that party scene with the stunning cinematography and Deadmau5's progressive track "Strobe" blazing.

  • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

    Nice review, Brad. I just saw it last night are here are my two cents:

    Runner Runner is pretty much the epitome of an overall average movie. While the script had some issues, it was generally serviceable and I didn't get bored. Still though, there was nothing really intriguing or original about it. Acting was fine, but no performances were worth writing home about. In the end, this is not a bad movie to watch if it's playing on the plane or for an afternoon on HBO. Would not go out of my way to recommend though.

    6.0 / 10 or "C"

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    I thought this was one of the worst films I've seen this year. I was completely bored- from the very beginning. I didn't buy into one scene of this film or any of the dialogue. There were sparse moments when I thought Ben Affleck did a good job or that maybe he was a little bit interesting- but all of that was overshadowed by how laughable the rest was.

    It'd be just a waste of time to even point out everything- but I will say that my sister and I began to laugh out loud when the voice over came on during a scene that's suppose to be fairly intense and timberlake says... "But this isn't a poker game... this is my life... and you can't just fold..."

    yes... we get it... the gambling metaphors were just so over the top.

    Not that the grade really matters- but I was surprised you gave this a C-. I thought this was right on par with the likes of the Host.