The film has captured the attention of poker people thanks to its subject matter and the fact that it was scripted by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the same duo who wrote Rounders. Indeed, if you go back a couple of years, some of the first references to Runner, Runner suggested the film might be a sequel, although it clearly isn’t that.
Rather the film looks like some sort of thriller that uses the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet insider cheating scandals as partial inspiration. A talented player and grad student (played by Justin Timberlake, who also played some poker in the ludicrous sci-fi flick In Time) gets cheated, then decides to go to Costa Rica to confront the site’s owner (played by Ben Affleck) who persuades him to work for the site. All is hunky dory until the FBI enters the picture, and from there it looks like the student becomes embroiled in a larger criminal plot that appears to extend considerably beyond just being able to see players’ hole cards. Also, there are crocodiles.
Here’s that trailer:
I’ve read a few items about Runner, Runner over the last several months, but I haven’t really looked into it that deeply as yet. I did exchange several messages with Koppelman at one point a long while back -- over a year ago -- and in fact he agreed to an interview with me about the project.
I was quite eager to speak with Koppelman after having taught Rounders several times in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. I also liked Koppelman’s Grantland piece from a couple of years ago called “The Beauty of Black Friday” which I shared with my class on a couple of occasions as it fit fairly well inside the larger historical narrative we construct in the course.
Alas, the interview never happened. Koppelman strung me along for a while with postponements and requests to get back to him. But after he put it off a third time I gave it up, as he clearly had more important things to do than talk to me.
Interesting to see this trailer this week amid all of the hubbub surrounding Ben Mezrich’s Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Empire -- and How It All Came Crashing Down (mentioned here on Monday), a book that purports to tell the story of Absolute Poker but weirdly tries to fashion the site’s criminal and fraudulent founders as unfairly-treated heroic figures.
Have been reading Mezrich trying to defend himself on Twitter and in a 2+2 thread about it, but the more he says about his book the more he reveals a lack of knowledge about what happened at AP, the recent history of online poker, and what is meant by the label “True Story.”
It looks like Runner, Runner probably takes a few liberties here and there, too. But it ain’t a documentary, and so in that context embellishments -- including crocodiles -- are obviously fair game.