The world of gambling is a tricky but popular one to attempt to capture on film. Movies like Casino and Rounders spring to mind as well done examples, but more often than not, there are films that come along like 21 and Lay the Favourite that offer very little to general audiences. Runner Runner sees Justin Timberlake as a Princeton math whizz who is drawn into the behind the scenes world of online gambling by working for big boss Ben Affleck.
The film doesn’t cater to the non-gambler, it uses alien terminology, confusing references and situations that seemed bizarre to me. Obviously this won’t be the same for everyone, but there was definitely a barrier that I was not getting through. The general tone of the film was very reminiscent of Rounders (not surprising as it shares the same screenwriters), this comes from the similar narration used in the film and youngsters getting into deep in the gambling world, sadly that only brings up the feeling of “I could be watching a better movie”.
What does separate this one out from Rounders is the depth of the characters, which here is very shallow. Timberlake is a likeable enough lead but his character has less dimensions than a stick figure. He cares about money and math, that’s about it. Along the film he develops a romance with Gemma Arterton and a bond with his father, neither of which are justified. His character just does what the script says without rhyme or reason. Affleck on the other hand is clearly having a ball playing this villain. He’s top range in this role, and his performance is reminiscent of the roles that De Niro and Pacino used to take. Sadly his is the only performance to carry the film, Arterton has a nothing role that she puts nothing into, Yul Vázquez is laughably bad and Anthony Mackie keeps popping up in every film without leaving any impression.
Whilst it’s not a good movie by any means, it is diverting. The cast is stacked with beautiful people and the Costa Rican locations are sometimes quite stunning and that can be appealing. Director Brad Furman obviously can make a good looking film, and one that only makes minimal offences, it just doesn’t quite have the screenplay or the memorability to make it as interesting as the sum of its parts.