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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Runner, Runner

Directed by: Brad Furman

Produced by: Arnon Milchan
Jennifer Davison Killoran
Leonardo DiCaprio
Michael Shamberg
Stacey Sher

Screenplay by: Brian Koppelman
David Levien

Starring: Justin Timberlake
Gemma Arterton
Anthony Mackie
Ben Affleck

Music by: Christophe Beck

Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore

Editing by: Jeff McEvoy

Studio(s): Regency Enterprises
Appian Way Productions
Double Feature Films

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): September 27, 2013 (United Kingdom)
October 4, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $30 million (

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $11, 246, 000

So, payday was good, and I wish I could say I went to the depths to try and find you guys another oddball movie to review that might not have been seen as much as, say, Iron Man 3, but the fact is despite scouring the depths of G2 Pictures, in the hope of finding another gem like Transit, the most I came out with (money-wise, anyway) was some more Dragon Ball comics and Planet Hulk. So, in light of that completely irrelevant and pithy update, for more of the some dribble, keep your eyes posted (good grief, that was terrible!).

Today's (and tomorrow's: je suis paresseux...) is Runner, Runner. The film was released in the United Kingdom on the 27th September and I saw it on the 23rd at a press screening at The Movie House, Dublin Road, courtesy of my good friend over at Danland Movies. It seems an unusual release circuit, as it's doing the rounds before being released in the United States, presumably to test the waters as to how well it's going to be received with audiences, as I'm sure the studios are aware of the derisory reviews that the critics have been punching in. Presumably they're waiting for CinemaScore to give their verdict, and they'll decide on their domestic release strategy from there! So, story, story of Runner, Runner goes like this: Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is a Princeton student cheated out of his tuition money, and goes to confront the notorious Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) with information about the blackmail, but ends becoming his protege and is sucked into an underworld based off of the financial success of those running online poker scams, all the while being tailed by Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) who tries to turn Richie into a double-player for both Block and the Feds. Simple? Good!

To start with the good about Runner, Runner, I'll address the cast. Although by no means are they fully fleshed-out characters (more of which in due time), they've got some good players in to do the job. While it may be implausible to buy Justin Timberlake as a student, if you forget about this and just go with him as the proverbial lead/audience cypher, you'll accept him in that position. Timberlake began venturing into acting a number of years back and when he began his musical hiatus in 2007, he became more prominent on this front, and has proven himself time and again as a solid performer. Anthony Mackie, although not given a great amount of screen time, is convincing in his role as an FBI agent. The real show-stealer (and obviously it's designed as such) is Ben Affleck's Ivan Block. Although a trope of 'charismatic bad guy,' Affleck is more than capable at doing this, and shows another layer of dexterity in his deck. Taking all the best lines and delivering them with a truly barbed edginess, Affleck eats up the part, and while it could be accused to scenery-chewing, the fact is that it's entertaining scenery-chewing and undoubtedly the highlight of the movie, proving that sometimes it's good to be bad. Another praiseworthy aspect of the film is the cinematography by Mauro Fiore. He may have won an Academy Award for Avatar, but this is more along the lines of his work in Training Day. Puerto Rico is depicted as a hot, sweaty place of urbane decadence, and Fiore's lighting has a strong contrast depending on the time. The daytime shoots take in as much of the powerful natural light as possible, showing both the beauty and how overwhelming it can be, the night having an interesting tonal palette, depicting the glitz and glam while also the grimy underworld decadence of this world. Finally, although by no means is it any great bit of work (or a particularly good one for that matter), it is still a relatively watchable flick. Director Brad Furman directs right down the middle, and while not making it anything special, it is still a controlled, decent work. 

Decent it may be, but I did say in due time at one point there, and the clock hath struck three-o-clock, so here come thy crimitisms, as Jed Leland would say (proverbial brownie points). The worst thing about this film is clearly the script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. It's hard to know where to start because it has to be one of the most derivative and perfunctory pieces of screenwriting to emerge in the past year. I mean, White House Down had a cliched script, but Roland Emmerich and co. know how to have fun with that, with this, at the most you get a temporary rise. Not spoil the film, but I did see a lot of comparisons plot-wise to The Last King Of Scotland, only that this is bereft of the dramatic tension that is built up throughout Kevin McDonald's film by the Peter Morgan/Jeremy Brock writing and the terrific performances by James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker. The characterisation is poor, most especially with that of Gemma Arterton, a perfectly fine actress played a part that describe as a trope would be an overstatement, rather, the better term is 'cardboard cut-out,' because despite her talents, all she's made to do and stand around and look pretty. Finally, there's not much else to say apart from the fact that (as pointed out by my friend at Danland Movies) there is no third act. It's wrapped up quicker than a deus ex machina, and you just think "really?" The film is produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Arnon Milchan, among others (the film has five credited producers), and you do just wonder do these people really believe that they are putting out a good work, or are they just going at it half-assed? Milchan in particular, who after his 'endeavours' with the Israelis in the sixties/seventies put his name and bucks to films such as The King Of Comedy, Once Upon A Time In America, Brazil, Natural Born Killers and Fight Club, the last great movie he produced, just does not seem to give a damn about the overall quality of his pictures above and beyond whether or not they are borderline releasable.

I wouldn't take the above as outright criticisms of Runner, Runner. Indeed, this is the kind of film that presents itself as a hard movie for me to review because it doesn't agree with me aesthetically. I'm an extremist who doesn't do things half-way. The things that energise me are either movies I really like or really loath, and the same goes for my own art: I put EVERYTHING into my work! It's not that I dislike or particularly like Runner, Runner, it's just one of those down the middle movies that is a decent bit of work, nothing special, nothing atrocious. 

The Thin White Dude' Prognosis - 5.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Inbetweenies (as I said, half-way doesn't agree with my aesthetics. Hell, I eschewed my summary because of it!)

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