Thursday, 5 July 2018

Runner Runner (4 Stars)

I don't usually read a review of a film before I watch it. It's only something I do if I'm not sure if I want to watch a film or not. "Runner Runner" is a case like that. For me the film had one plus and two minuses. The plus is Gemma Arterton, the minuses are Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. The review said that the the film's biggest weakness is the over-complex plot, but the acting by all three main characters is outstanding. Very interesting. I have nothing against complex plots, as long as the complexities are relevant. I just don't like it when there are pointless diversions.

Let's talk about the plot first. I can see what the reviewer meant about it being complex, but it shouldn't be too difficult for anyone with above average intelligence to follow. Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) used to be co-owner of a big company on Wall Street, but it went bankrupt due to his partners stealing money, leaving Richie almost broke. He decided to make a new start by going to Princeton University to do a Masters degree. He made the money to finance his course by being an affiliate of online Poker sites, earning a commission for every new player he sent them. Foolishly, most of the players he referred were Princeton students, and he was given the blame when some of them lost all their money. The university dean threatened to expel him if he didn't stop referring students. No problem. Richie considered himself an excellent Poker player, so he decided to finance the rest of his course by gambling. After initial success he lost all his money within a few hours to a single player.

Richie is man enough to accept that anyone can lose, but he's convinced that this mystery player was a cheat. He made repeated illogical decisions which always succeeded. He travels to Costa Rica, where the online gambling site Midnight Black is based, so that he can speak to the site's owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). At first Ivan is sceptical, because every bad gambler claims to have been cheated, but he looks into it. He finds that Midnight Black's programmers have built a backdoor through which players can see their opponents' cards. Out of gratitude to Richie he offers him a job.

Gemma Arterton plays Rebecca Shafran, Ivan's personal secretary and ex-lover. A relationship develops between Richie and Rebecca, but it doesn't bother Ivan. On the contrary, Ivan is glad that Richie has an additional reason to stay in Costa Rica.

Ivan might be opposed to players cheating other players on his site, but that doesn't mean he's an honest businessman. He's bribing government officials for the right to do business in Costa Rica unscrutinised. He's also stealing money from player accounts. His customers, millions of them worldwide, pay money into their accounts, but the money goes directly to him, meaning the accounts only contain virtual money. If a successful player ever wants to cash out, money is put back into his account to pay him, but there isn't enough money to pay out everyone, not even a fraction of what's needed.

Maybe I'm getting into too many details. Just because the plot is complex it doesn't mean I have to describe every nuance. I'll just mention FBI agent Shavers, played by Anthony Mackie. He's a man who thinks the ends justify the means. He wants Richie to supply him information about Ivan. Richie refuses, so Shavers steps up the pressure. He plants heroin on Richie, and when he's arrested he says that he'll tell the local police to drop the charges if he'll help him find evidence against Ivan. Don't mess with the FBI.

As for the actors, I have to agree with what I read in the review. Ben Affleck is perfect in his role as the millionaire businessman. He's not honest, but he thinks he's honest. He's prepared to justify every crooked deal he makes as necessary for business. He's cool and suave and intensely charismatic.

Gemma Arterton is excellent in every role she plays, and this is no exception. My only regret is that she plays a relatively small role.

I think I've been unfair to Justin Timberlake. I've seen him in a few films, and I can't fault his performances, so why did I consider him a negative? I think I'm only biased against him because of his music. I consider his songs disgusting, everything from the insipid lyrics to his high-pitched voice and his spastic on-stage dancing. Who has brainwashed kids into thinking he has any talent? Nevertheless, he's a very talented actor. He should give up his embarrassing singing career and stick to what he's good at. I think I need to re-watch some of his films to remind myself what he can do.

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