Released in 2013, Runner Runner follows in the footsteps of other hugely popular gambling films such as Rounders, but with a key difference – it is arguably one of the first films ever to deal with gambling online, versus in a land based casino. When you look at classic casino films, they always take place at big money Vegas resorts, or otherwise in luxurious establishments that make for natural film backdrops. But with online gambling of course, it’s a little harder to get this idea across on film.
Nevertheless, Runner Runner does so, by in part focusing on the life and work of Nat Arem, a former accountant turned poker whizz who went on to uncover wholesale cheating at online poker through analysing statistical models. OK, so perhaps this doesn’t sound like the most exciting setting for a film, and the critics generally panned Runner Runner when it came out. Yet the film has still found its fans, and remains a film many would recommend for its entertainment value.
With an all star cast including Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Affleck, there should have been a lot going for this film. So was it any good, and should you watch it, or is this a film that the critics have just about right?
Richie Furst, played by Justin Timberlake, is a former Wall Street professional, who returns to study for a masters at Princeton. But unable to gain financial assistance because of his previous career, Furst turns to being a gambling affiliate on campus to pay his way. After being uncovered for breaking the rules, Furst is nearly thrown out, unless he can pay off his tuition by other means. He turns to playing online poker himself to recoup the money.
Unfortunately, Furst loses to a scammer, and is able to use his mathematical prowess to demonstrate anomalies in the statistics. He takes this to Costa Rica, where he finds the gambling mogul responsible for running the website. He demonstrates his evidence of cheating, and is immediately offered a job in Costa Rica, working for the mogul, named Ivan Block.
However, Furst soon gets caught up in blackmail, and is then kidnapped by the FBI, who are out to capture Block. His father’s debts are eventually paid off by Block, who brings his father to Costa Rica as a hostage, and a counterpoint to the actions of the FBI.
Can Richie Furst evade those out to get him, and untangle himself from the web of danger? Or will he get caught up in the murky underworld of crime, violence and law enforcement. Only his wits are there to save him.
Who Will Enjoy The Film
This is a film that had a lot of promise, both in terms of the assembled cast, and the intriguing plot lines that could have gone further. Unfortunately, most critics and fans agree that the film doesn’t quite hit the mark, and doesn’t quite live up to its billing in the way that it should have. While the film was a moderate box office success, this is simply a case of lacklustre execution on strong raw materials.
Nevertheless, that’s not to say this is a film you shouldn’t watch, nor one you won’t enjoy. Anyone who enjoys online gambling, for instance, will definitely appreciate this, as will those who are familiar with Nat Arem’s story. It’s just that there was a lot of potential in this film that remains unrealised, which is a shame to say the least.
Similarly, this is an entertaining watch if you’re looking for something that’s not too challenging, or you’re simply up for discovering something new. Ben Affleck puts in a decent performance, as does Gemma Arterton, as always. Even JT earns his position in this film, and it’s a believable portrayal if not a little weak in parts.
The best way to find out is to watch it for yourself, and it earns a recommendation for that alone. Just don’t expect to be blown away – unfortunately, most people aren’t.