By all rights, Runner Runner (2013) should have been my jam. After all, it’s a film about gambling… at least on its surface. And whether we’re talking The Cincinnati Kid (1965), California Split (1974) or Maverick (1994), gambling films are something I obsess over. In the desperation of the gambler, the intrinsic suspense of the game lays a visceral cinematic experience I find utterly irresistible. What’s more, Runner Runner co-stars Ben Affleck, and I do so love me some Ben Affleck (no explanation needed there methinks, because I see no reason not to love Ben Affleck)!
Now, both gambling and Ben Affleck are indeed elements that define Runner Runner, and there is certainly something to be said for that. The gambling—what little of it there is—is at least interesting, if not terribly engaging. And Ben Affleck is his usual Ben Affleck-y self, only more sinister, which makes him interesting as well in this picture. Beyond that and some gorgeous location photography, however, I found most other facets of Runner Runner either difficult to connect with or downright off-putting.
The biggest offender in this regard is the film’s protagonist, Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake). Affleck’s Ivan Block is in fact far more nuanced and compelling, but as the antagonist, and a criminal to boot, is unlikeable. That’s where Richie could have come in. And Timberlake does what he can with the role, but Richie’s ultimately a shallow character about whom we know next to nothing. We know he lost his job on Wall Street, which at once serves as his motivation and makes me despise him outright. We also learn that his father is a gambler. And we also discover that he likes to narrate his story so that the film can avoid providing us with any real detail about who he is or what he does. About an hour into the film, Richie does have a heart-to-heart discussion with his dad about gambling and the like, but it’s far too little and far too late to provide the film with anything resembling a genuine emotional core. In the end, not being able to care about Richie undercuts any potential suspense the film may have had and makes the whole affair appear outlandish and goofy as a result, especially as the plot degenerates into a contest of which character can out-bribe the other with local authorities.
Runner Runner is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and the release includes deleted scenes, the film’s theatrical trailer, and a featurette about the history of online poker, which is something the film should have incorporated more thoroughly.