Ben Affleck Has the Winning Hand in RUNNER RUNNER (2013)

Runner RunnerMovie Review:  RUNNER RUNNER (2013)


Michael Arruda



Ben Affleck might not be at the point in his acting career where he can carry a bad movie, but he’s getting close.  Not that RUNNER RUNNER is a bad movie, but it’s safe to say it isn’t a very good one.


Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is struggling to pay his graduate school tuition, and so he turns to online gambling, hooking players up with online gambling sites and getting paid for his efforts.  But when the college shuts Richie down, he gets desperate and goes all in with a bet on an online site only to lose.  Richie realizes he’s been cheated, and knowing that casinos frown upon cheating because it’s bad for business, he deduces that whoever cheated him was an underling, and the head of the online casino would not be pleased.


Richie travels to Costa Rica where he finds and informs the man who owns the site, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) that someone cheated him, and he shows Block evidence which proves it.  Richie’s instincts prove correct, as Block is dismayed to learn that someone working for him has swindled a customer.  Block is grateful and rewards Richie with a job.


Soon, Richie is making all kinds of money, and life is good.  When Block involves him in some shady dealings, Richie naively assumes it’s all legal.  But when he’s confronted by FBI agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) who tells Richie that Block is a bad egg, it gives him pause.  Of course, Block tells him to ignore the FBI, that they’re just jealous of his success, and for him not to worry because the FBI has no jurisdiction in Costa Rica. 


Should have listened to Agent Shavers, Richie!


RUNNER RUNNER is actually a pretty entertaining movie for what it is:  fluff trying to pass itself off as serious thriller, and I probably enjoyed it more than I should have because Ben Affleck gives a spirited performance that dominates the film.  Yep, Affleck owns this movie.


Ever since his performance as George Reeves in HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) I’ve been on the Ben Affleck bandwagon.  I really enjoyed him in THE TOWN (2010) and of course he hit the ball out of the park with ARGO (2012).  All of these recent roles have led me to forget Affleck’s earlier duds, films like THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002) and DAREDEVIL (2003).


How good is Affleck as Ivan Block?  Good enough to easily be the best part of this movie.  In fact, if not for Affleck, I don’t think I would have enjoyed RUNNER RUNNER at all.  He brings Ivan Block to life and makes him quite the villain.  He pours his heart and soul into the role.   


Justin Timberlake is okay in the lead as Richie Furst, but Richie really isn’t the most interesting character, and Timberlake doesn’t do much to make him memorable.  Granted, I’m not the biggest Timberlake fan.  My favorite Timberlake roles have been when he’s been in a supporting role, in films like TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012) and BAD TEACHER (2011).  Plus for a character who’s supposed to be so smart, Richie takes forever to realize that maybe Ivan Block might not be the best guy to work for. 


Gemma Arterton looks good as Rebecca Shafran, the woman who has a relationship with both Ivan and Richie, but it’s a juicer sounding role than it actually is.  We know very little about her relationship with Ivan, and her involvement with Richie never becomes all that believable, nor do Arterton and Timberlake share much chemisty.  Arterton fared slightly better as Gretel alongside Jeremy Renner’s Hansel in HANSEL AND GRETEL:  WITCH HUNTERS (2013).  However, I’ve liked her best so far in the Daniel Craig the James Bond flick QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008).


Anthony Mackie who plays FBI Agent Shavers has been in a lot of movies lately, in films like PAIN AND GAIN (2013), GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), and ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012).  He’s fine here, but it’s a blah role.  Agent Shavers is like just about every other frustrated law enforcement official we see in the movies.


A grizzled, tired looking John Heard plays Richie’s dad Harry.  He’s okay in this small role.  I remember when Heard used to be a lead actor.  He’s too good to be playing bit roles like this.


The screenplay by Brian Koppelman and David Levien presents a fairly entertaining premise, but most of the drama and thrills here are watered down, and in spite of the film’s R rating, the story never goes for the throat.  For example, in a key scene where Affleck’s Ivan threatens to throw his enemies into the water to be eaten by crocodiles, he doesn’t follow through.  Heck, even James Bond villains do as much.


And with the exception of Affleck’s Ivan Block, most of the characters in this one are superficial.  They aren’t fleshed out, and Block only stands out because of Affleck’s performance, not because of the writing.


RUNNER RUNNER also suffers from “trailer exposure.”  If you’ve seen the trailer to this one— and I had, multiple times— you’ve pretty much seen the entire movie.  There really isn’t much left in the film to surprise you.  I really wish trailers would become more creative at selling their movie without giving away the entire plot.  Some trailers do this already, like the ones for GRAVITY (2013) but so many just give away the entire story, some even revealing the film’s final scene!


I expected RUNNER RUNNER to tackle the subject of online gambling with some depth, but it really doesn’t.  The goings-on here aren’t any deeper than what you would find in a superficial soap opera plot.


Nor does the movie have much to say about greed.  Timberlake’s Richie’s driving force in entering the online gambling world is to pay for graduate school.  Granted, he sticks around and accepts Block’s job offer ostensibly to get rich, but we don’t really know that.  We’re never invited inside Richie’s mind and soul to find out what makes him tick, nor do we see him tainted by all of Block’s money and power.  He’s pretty much the same guy at the end of the movie as he was at the beginning.


And as much as I liked Ben Affleck as Ivan Block, we never really get inside his head either.  I don’t really know why he does what he does.  Obviously, it’s for the money, but we learn little about Block’s background, where he came from, or what he wants to do with his future.  Ivan Block is a dynamic character only because Affleck’s performance brings the guy to life.


Directed by Brad Furman, RUNNER RUNNER is an entertaining piece of fluff that has as its centerpiece a riveting performance by Ben Affleck as an unscrupulous villain of the online gambling world, Ivan Block, but other than Affleck, there’s not a whole lot here to be excited about.


Consider folding and placing your bets elsewhere.







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