I have not seen Director Brad Furman’s first feature, The Take (2008), but his second, The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), is a slow burning thriller that takes time to develop characters even as its plot stretches credulity at several turns. Furman tries to follow the same template with Runner, Runner, but he doesn’t do it near so well.
Runner, Runner is always engaging and at least marginally entertaining, but it never quite lives up to its promising opening. Quite the opposite, actually. It gets slowly worse with each passing minute, at least until the muted finale that proves a strong conclusion to an overall weak project.
Ben Affleck is not good as supposedly intimidating mob boss Ivan Black, who has so much money he can, apparently, pay off nearly all of the Costa Rican government. Affleck comes close to capturing his character’s supposed charisma, but he fails to show Block’s edge, that which is supposed to make him scary. In these darker moments, Affleck is naught but over-the-top, and thereby the opposite of convincing.
Gemma Arterton (Rebecca Shafran) and Anthony Mackie (the required FBI agent) are not much better, though truth be told their characters are so poorly written that I’m not certain either actor could have done much to save the roles. Both Rebecca and Agent Shavers are flimsy characters with flimsy motivations and unexplained back stories. Arterton, for instance, is supposed to show that Rebecca cares for Richie (Justin Timberlake), but the script makes this near impossible by showing her monitoring Richie so as to report to Block in one moment and then, suddenly, helping him betray Block in the next, with almost no development in between.
Our lead character, Richie Furst, is not developed much better, though Furman and Writers Brad Koppelman and David Levien do at least try to give Richie layers. They simply fail. We never believe the choices Richie makes because we never truly know Richie.
A film with poorly developed characters and awkward performances needs a completely engrossing plot line. Runner, Runner lacks that, as well. Both Richie’s and Ivan’s plans are too shrouded, too difficult to decipher and then, ultimately, not clever enough.
Runner, Runner is a bad film, even if it makes for almost decent entertainment.