Cinema Review: Runner Runner

runner_runner_ben_affleck_a_l

 

DIR: Brad Furman • WRI: Brian Koppelman, David Levien • PRO: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson Killoran , Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Michael Shamberg , Stacey Sher • DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Jeff McEvoy • DES: Charisse Cardenas • Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie

You go the cinema expecting an expose doc on the trainer industry and instead end up with a run of the mill thriller. Fittingly, this film is bizarrely akin to spending an hour and a half on a treadmill. Insofar as it expends a lot of energy but really doesn’t go anywhere. Not anywhere remotely interesting anyway.

Justin Timberlake takes a break from his music to play a Princeton grad student who takes a break from his studies to track down the shady big-wig behind an online poker empire. His crudely named character Richie Furst considers himself a bit of a whizz at virtual cards but takes major umbrage when he is cleared out online. Proving that you have to spend money to get money back, he takes off on a rather whimsical trip to Costa Rica to get his tuition fees reimbursed. Convinced that he has been ripped off, Richie intends to confront the mysterious businessman Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) behind an ultra successful cyber gambling site.

Disproportionally impressed by this bit of brio, Block naturally offers Richie the kind of Faustian pact that even blind blues musicians at a crossroads at midnight could see coming from a million miles away. Richie subsequently appears to develop a kind of ‘crime glaucoma’ where everything is rosy and legit right in front of his eyes but he inexplicably can’t see the major criminal edges of Block’s empire. Even subtle hints like Block feeding lumps of frozen meat to his pet crocodiles on a moonlit jetty fail to raise an eyebrow. It apparently takes a lot to sour Richie’s cheery worldview that mobsters, gamblers and prostitutes are all law-abiding all of the time.

With American law enforcement closing in on the exiled Block, soon Richie’s only choice is whether to be a stool pigeon for the Feds or a patsy for the bad guy. Perhaps his eureka moment arrived in a deleted scene where he rents ‘The Firm’ (the Tom Cruise one – not the Danny Dyer one) and follows its’ step by step guide to getting out of this exact same scenario. In fact, this entire film feels like one particular sequence from that thriller where Gene Hackman brought Cruiser down to the Caymans to corrupt him.

Trying to figure out the motivation of the actors for doing this rather feeble film is kind of fun. Timberlake is definitely committed to being serious about his thespian career. Protected by strong directors like Fincher in The Social Network, he can transmit his inherent charm through the camera with nonchalant ease. Nor is the onus of shouldering the central role brand new territory for him. He has borne the pressure of carrying a movie before and far better than here. Even in fluff like Friends with Benefits or In Time, he stretched himself and, to an extent, proved himself. In this, he looks uncomfortable and even that discomfort doesn’t feed into the nervous energy that the character should emit at pivotal moments.

Whereas ostensible female lead Gemma Arterton needs exposure in big American releases so her agenda is obvious and understandable though the resultant pallid role never taps into her considerable talents. For Affleck, you’d have to suspect the pay cheque was more tempting than the material. An opening speech about exile aside, there’s no depth or context to Block’s villainy. Maybe Affleck got to write Argo 2 on location in the tropics but the outstanding question then becomes what exactly does an audience get out of Runner Runner?

Precious little is the answer unless you’re in the most forgiving form of your life. It may just suffice as a sun kissed slice of distraction but in reality, there’s not a beat of this story that isn’t predictable or even tries to subvert the overly familiar.

Admittedly this is glib but if someone suggests going to Runner Runner, do a runner in the opposite direction.

James Phelan

15A (See IFCO for details)

95 mins
Runner Runner is released on 27th September 2013

Runner Runner – Official Website

 

http://www.runnerrunnermovie.com/index.html

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Cinema Review: Real Steel

Round 100

DIR: Shawn Levy • WRI: John Gatins • PRO: Shawn Levy, Susan Montford, Don Murphy, Robert Zemeckis • ED: Dean Zimmerman • DOP: Mauro Fiore • DES: Tom Meyer • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand

Rocky With Robots? Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em The Movie? Transformers Fight Club? Yes, all of these jokes have already been made, and yes, it is very easy to come up with more of them. But after watching the movie, it becomes so much harder to make fun, as it’s been a long time since a movie has worn its heart so earnestly on its sleeve.

Hugh Jackman is the retired boxer trying to make a living in the new world of Robot Boxing. When we first meet him, his robot is wrestling a bull, the robot loses, and he makes a run for it without paying up his losses. In the next scene, he is selling his son to his brother-in-law. In short, he is not the nicest of guys. But through some barely thought out plot contrivances, Jackman is left minding his son for the summer, they find a very old boxing robot, and pretty soon they’re learning to love each other while ten-tonne machines are knocking ten shades of oil out of each other in the background.

There is a lot wrong with this movie; the stunningly overt product placement, the diabetes causing levels of saccharin, the kid (Dakota Goyo) is so annoying that you start wishing one of the robots to accidentally collapse on him… But then theres the fantastically realised robot fight scenes, the walking charisma machine that is Hugh Jackman, the stunningly beautiful Evangeline Lilly as his only friend, and a final fight that will have you cheering louder than the end of Warrior. Much like the scrapheap robot at its centre, yes this movie is stupid, but its heart is in the right place.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Real Steel is released on 14th October 2011

Real Steel– Official Website

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The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

DIR: Kathryn Bigelow • WRI: Mark Boal • PRO: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: Chris Innis, Bob Murawski • DES: Karl Júlíusson • CAST: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Bryan Geraghty, Evangeline Lilly

Jeremy Renner may not have received an Oscar® nomination earlier this year for The Hurt Locker, yet he more than deserved it. In Kathryn Bigelow’s (Point Break, K 19:The Widowmaker) excellent Iraqi war movie, his is the standout performance in what could be considered the first truly effective look at the war in Iraq ,or, more specifically, the occupation of Iraq by US-led forces. As bomb disposal expert Staff Sergeant William James, Renner brings an intensity and believability to a role that, like the film as a whole, could so easily have succumbed to the clichés that are home to many war movies, be it melodramatic, crazed soldiers or pseudo-lecturing on the depravity of war.

Based on Mark Boal’s book of the same name, The Hurt Locker focuses on a Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Bomb Disposal unit with Bravo Company in modern day Baghdad. The unit, consisting of Staff  Sgt James, Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Bryan Geraghty) are sent to areas where there are suspected bombs, with Sgt. James, the maverick soldier of the piece, sent into the firing line as the man tasked with defusing whatever device may or may not be planted on the streets of Iraq.

In the film’s opening scene, we see James’s predecessor with Bravo Company, Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce), killed, after the bomb which he aimed to defuse was set off by a nearby shopkeeper. As the viewer soon realises, the soldiers stationed in Iraq take every little move as potentially hostile and often with good reason – an idle car, an individual using their phone, even a misplaced piece of rubble all pose deadly risks to those monitoring the streets of Iraq. In less capable hands this point could well have been laboured, but Bigelow effectively builds up the tension and paranoia which constantly follows the soldiers in their actions. Indeed, the narrative is set up according to how many days are left in Bravo Company’s ‘rotation’ in Iraq, putting forward the very real time-bomb of survival these young soldiers face.

Bigelow’s film may infuriate some viewers for ostensibly taking at times an apolitical stance towards the conflict. Yet permeating the surface are instances of Bigelow probing the mindsets of the men sent to take part in this war and the dichotomy of service versus survival. Indeed, throughout The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal’s script is littered with acerbic comments on the realities on the ground. After US soldiers arrest a taxi driver who sped passed a checkpoint without stopping, Sgt. James wryly comments, ‘If he wasn’t an insurgent before, he sure the hell is now’. In another instance, a US Soldier asks Sgt. James, ‘Can’t we just shoot him?’ in reference to an innocent family man who begs the US soldiers to defuse a bomb he was made to carry. Whilst Specialist Eldridge and Sgt. Sanborn see little point in the conflict; for Sgt. James his role as a bomb technician is a calling – something he was born to do and which he excels at. Reckless and brash (taking his protective suit off whilst defusing bombs), he is more at home on the streets of Iraq than the domesticity of the US, seen so lucidly in his bafflement at trying to choose a cereal from the multitude on offer in a supermarket on his return home. Moments of simple humanity and camaraderie punctuating the lives of the soldiers do at times feel forced, yet at the same time are all the more poignant given the veritable vacuum which Iraq poses for these men. Thus, a simple friendship between Sgt. James and an Iraqi boy nicknamed ‘Beckham’ is surprisingly believable as James struggles to bond with his fellow soldiers at Camp Victory (As Sgt. Sanborn caustically notes, Camp Victory was formerly called Camp Liberty, but ‘Victory sounds better’).

The film’s close may seem like a calling card for enlistment in Iraq, yet this would be to miss Bigelow/Boal’s crucial point. Whatever about the merits of the Iraqi invasion or occupation, the viewpoints of the soldiers on the ground are equally revealing – isolated, dangerous and constantly fighting for survival, Iraq is a twilight zone not only for modern warfare, but modern life itself.

Jason Robinson
(See biog here)

Rated 15A (See IFCO website for details)
The Hurt Locker is released on 28th August 2009

The Hurt Locker – Official Website

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