starring Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Ben Affleck, Bob Gunton and John Heard
written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien
directed by Brad Furman
Runner Runner is a crime thriller about online gambling and the computer-math virtuosos who facilitate it. Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) operates his online gambling empire from Costa Rica, a tax and regulation haven from the U.S. And what an empire!! It’s unimagined wealth and privilege, like a Roman emperor, or something. Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a brilliant university student and professional gambler who is expelled for running - or, more accurately, facilitating an online gambling operation on campus in violation of university regulations. In an attempt to win enough money to pay for his education Richie loses online. Through statistical analysis he discovers systematic cheating in a business that boasts about its honesty, and he decides to go to Costa Rica to complain directly to Ivan Block. Because he is brilliant Ivan offers him a job which he can’t resist because the money is more than God himself can dream up. And don’t forget the sex. Whenever you’ve got lots of money you’ve got lots of girls, too.
I didn’t like this movie. Apart from the uninteresting story and the grotty characters I object strongly to the presentation of gambling - the gaming industry - as a legitimate business for university students to aspire to. My view of university education is that it is supposed to train us to be more human, and therefore promote the humanities. The idea of university as a for-profit business preparing students for employment with rewarding salaries is an abomination.
More and more I am bothered by the rehabilitation of vice as a legitimate lifestyle: the decriminalization of prostitution, marijuana, and gambling. Does that make me a bigot? I’ve never been into those things anyway, and their reframing as legitimate pursuits protected by the law and demanding my respect marginalizes me, which is not what the film industry ought to be doing to its cash-paying audience. But I’m a minority, which means I don’t matter - unless I am a gay, paraplegic, black, reformed female junkie hooker. If I’m one of those then I would be the darling of society. I would be a media hero hailed as an example of society’s openness. Crap. That’s what Runner Runner is. Crap.
It’s like everything you thought you wanted when you were thirteen years old.
That’s the great thing about America. We go soft on financial crime.