Finally, a new poker movie that looks watchable. Runner, Runner is headed by two of Hollywood’s top A-listers: Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. The trailer looks good and my assumption at this point is that it is because poker is used as a vessel and not the center of the plot.
Where I think that “modern”, by which I mean post-Moneymaker, poker movies got it wrong was simply by making them in the first place. The reason is because we already witnessed the ultimate Cinderella story by watching Chris Moneymaker take down a field of top professionals after parlaying a $40 investment into $2.5 million. How could any movie top that? After all, most people who read this should now be familiar with the concept of “utility” and how that utility makes a steep decline after a certain point. So for example, it’s not like a $5 million movie prize would be “twice” as exciting as a real-life victory with real-life consequences. So what should they do? Make top prize $10 million? How about $20 million? That would run into a second problem, in that it would quickly escalate out of the realm of believability. After all, what would the buy-in have to be and how many people would have to pony up that sort of cash to create a prize pool that large?
How about the “dangers” of the game of poker? Therein is the third and ultimate problem- they just don’t exist anymore! The only real risk that the average poker player need worry about is having his $140 “bankroll” used to play $10 sit-n-goes swiped by a rogue site that has gone under because the poker room manager couldn’t keep his cocaine and hooker habit under control. Backroom high stakes games run by the mob or other dangerous figures were no longer necessary, especially given the fact that the highest stakes games now took place on the Internet and the players were paid by the decidedly not-so-dangerous method of checks and bank wires.
If this movie scores with critics, it won’t be because of some tense (and lame) big showdown hand at a poker table, but because it convinces audiences that the puppet masters running the show from beyond the reach of the law are capable of things far worse than Teddy KGB ever could pull off.