The history of the United States with online gambling is sad at best and frustratingly crazy at worst.
Online gambling is just one of the many examples of a freedom the government has chosen to take away from people for “their own good.” Runner Runner, available now on home video, is the first memorable movie to deal with the subject of online gambling and to highlight the seedy underworld created and thriving off of misguided laws and government red tape and seizure motivations.
Runner Runner is certainly not an agenda driven film. The writing is quite removed from having an opinion on any of the players we see at the table. We merely see them all for who they are. Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) is a millionaire from his online gambling entrepreneurial efforts, but he’s also a heartless and greedy man that cares little for the customer or those he feels stand in his way.
Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) is an FBI agent looking for little more than a juicy collar to impress his higher ups, and he’ll bend a few rules to get his way. The list goes on and on. Never does the script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders) try to sway us one way or the other on the issue, but it’s plain to see the corruption at play in this straight ’70s style thriller from director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer).
Richie (Justin Timberlake) is a Princeton student trying to win his tuition through online gambling when he loses everything and knows he’s been cheated. Off he jets to Costa Rica to see Ivan Block (who owns the site he was playing on) and thus a partnership ensues. Only Block is up to things Richie knows little about and everyone wants to play Richie to their own ends and benefits.
Today, online gambling in America has become a bit of a non issue as various states have approved of light forms of it, however it’s still ridiculous that something as simple and non harmful as online gambling is illegal in the United States of America. Looking at the history of online gambling in the USA (the history is examined in the special feature House of Cards included in the Blu-ray combo pack), we see the U.S. government preferring to outlaw rather than regulate, to infringe on personal rights and make a profit rather than protect liberties. Runner is a movie that sheds a light on the very black market U.S. laws have created by taking such a harsh stance on online gambling.
Beyond highlighting this underworld, Runner Runner is surprisingly one of the very few films from last year to actually examine this current generation. Through the character of Richie (he used to work on Wall Street), Koppelman and Levien examine a lot of ideas and frustrations rampant within the current generation of young folks from the price of college to the ideas of greed and ambition.
The sharp script delves into the ideas of what words like greed and ambition mean in a post financial crash world where the America Dream is being redefined.
Both of these concepts make the script for Runner Runner stand out and make the film memorable. In the same way that Rounders captured the late ’90s generation through the world of poker, Runner Runner does the same with this current generation.
This movie is without a doubt this generation’s Rounders.
Despite being torn apart by critics, Runner is a tightly directed and beautifully photographed movie with exceptional writing and performing from actors like Affleck. The film not only breaks new ground in highlighting the world of online gambling, but also in that it chooses to exist within and acknowledge this new frustrated generation who are trying to capture the very American Dream everyone seems to be offering, but no one seems to be delivering on. Richie’s decision in the final minutes of Runner should provide good advice to the generation as a whole.
Runner, Runner is available now.