Timberlake as misfit in 'Runner Runner'
MANILA, Philippines - In "Runner Runner," we get two excellent male leads in a story that attempts to update the organized crime story. Think of it as a gangster movie for the digital age.
Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, an extremely interesting character from the get-go. He was a hedge fund manager when Wall Street crashed, and at the start of the film he’s back in school. He turns to gambling and promoting online gambling sites to try and make enough money to pay for his master's at Princeton. His talent, moxie, and desperation lead him to Costa Rica, where he enters the organization of online gambling kingpin Ivan Block.
Ben Affleck plays the charismatic Block, who lures Richie not just into the online gambling world, but into the darker underworld of organized crime. We start to see the world of corruption and violence that lurks beneath those glamorous parties and flashy internet sites.
It’s an all too familiar story. Young and hungry guy wants to come up in the world. A veteran takes him under his wing and shows him the ropes. At first the young guy is overwhelmed by the high life, but then he starts seeing the bad stuff that is going on underneath.
The elements are all in place too. Along with those two primaries, there’s a beautiful woman who gets caught between them (Gemma Arterton), an FBI agent trying to bust the big boss (Anthony Mackie), and a motley crew of thugs, heavies, and corrupt officials. Replace the exotic setting with old New York and you’ve got yourself something that Martin Scorsese might have made earlier in his career.
What is key to this story is the kind of updating that it does. First off is that it shows us a new kind of criminal. There’s a lot of lip service paid to the different generations that the two main characters come from, and how that defines their values. But what’s interesting, at least with Furst, is the movie makes the character sympathetic. He’s a guy who wants to be successful in the world, and he’s doing what it takes. He’s a character who has been beaten down by the system, and he gets up and keeps trying. There’s also something to be said about his attempts at an Ivy League education and how that is just in his reach but is quickly slipping away.
The next update is that this film explores a criminal organization that is based on the business generated online. The online gambling sites and the kinds of crime that this movie portrays make it an interesting thing to watch.
Perhaps the film’s biggest irony is that even though the medium and the geographic locations are different, the methods and the corruption of organized crime remain the same. The appeal of the quick buck is also there, amplified by the kinds of money that can be generated by online access. On the surface is all that online flash, but beneath it all is still extortion, pay-offs, violence,and what we come to expect from a movie like this.
I really enjoyed the ways that this movie tried to re-fashion the organized crime narrative. It make it sleek, make it all look cool. It was easy to understand how easily someone could get sucked into the life, easy to understand why one would compromise their morals or even give up a degree from Princeton just to live this kind of life.
The biggest problem of the film is that it falls apart in its 3rd act. The film’s tension builds pretty well. It has performances that keep us going with it. But in its unraveling, it all seems a little too simple, a little too easy.
One of the most exciting parts of this kind of movie is the dramatic action that has the character struggling to get out of the crazy mess that he has gotten himself into. This part should have been stronger and more memorable. I can’t help but think of the tension that Affleck creates as a director in films like "The Town," and I wish he could have helped build some of that into this movie by Brad Furman.
"Runner Runner" has some strong points, and it makes for entertaining viewing. But you walk away from it feeling like it was a passing entertainment and not much else. It had a lot of potential, and as it is, it’s alright, but it could have been much more. - Rappler.com
Here's the trailer:
Carljoe Javier teaches English and Creative Writing at the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature. He is an enthusiast and scholar of pop culture.