Runner Runner Set To Premiere October 4

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Eagerly anticipated by many in the poker community, the theatrical release Runner Runner is slated for its premiere weekend on October 4 across movie houses throughout the United States.

Pushed back a week from its originally planned release date of September 27, the film stars Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton in a fictional tale about a Princeton student (Timberlake) who travels to Costa Rica to confront the owner of an online poker site (Affleck) after losing his tuition in what he considers a shady game on the site. Instead of getting answers, however, Timberlake’s character ends up working with the owner until he is approached by an FBI agent who is looking to take down Affleck’s character (no indications what Arterton’s role in the film might be).

While it is not billed as a “poker movie” per se, it does have an intimate connection with the poker world. Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the duo behind the seminal classic Rounders, there is a tremendous amount of inside knowledge of the poker world that is brought to the silver screen. It is something that Koppelman admits they have tried to get away from but, like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, they always seem to get pulled back in.

“We always say ‘We’re not going to write another gambling picture,” Koppelman stated in a quick blurb on the film in Entertainment Weekly. “Then inevitably one of us comes into the office and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea,’ and we’re off again.”

The Koppelman/Levien team has been in the gambling world before. Besides Rounders, the duo has teamed up as writers on Ocean’s Thirteen and the ESPN mini-series Tilt back in 2005. They received a great deal of kudos for starting the “poker boom” with Rounders, but Tilt was one of the love it/hate it poker programs that came out in the mid-2000s. With Runner Runner, Koppelman and Levien might be looking to get back in the “good graces” of the poker community.

If any of the buzz regarding the movie’s release is an indicator, Runner Runner might be one of the surprises of the fall movie schedule. Their Facebook page has already garnered almost 101,000 likes as people discuss the movie. Most of that discussion has been about the appearance of Timberlake in the film, however, and not about the subject matter.

Post-Rounders, the poker movie business has been a bit of a bust (no pun intended). Such films as Shade (2004) and Deal (2008) proved to be less than popular, and Daniel Craig’s turn as James Bond in Casino Royale (2006) seemed to be the draw rather than the game itself. Another seemingly lost film, The Grand, was an overlooked satirical observation of the game with an outstanding cast.

Where poker films have had a great deal of success has been in the documentary field, however. Most recently, the documentaries Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker and All In – The Poker Movie have earned considerable praise for their attention to detail and portrayal of the game of poker. Additionally, the ESPN documentary One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stu Ungar won accolades for the unflinching look at the life of the legendary three time World Series of Poker Championship Event winner Stu Ungar (the theatrical release, High Roller (2003), wasn’t as well received).

Until the film is released on October 4, we won’t know how the movie-watching community will treat Runner Runner. Timberlake has had some success with The Social Network and Friends With Benefits, while Affleck, who won a screenwriting Academy Award with Rounders star Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting, walks between the directorial side of the camera (he won the Academy Award for Best Film with Argo, which he also starred in) and the acting side (The Town). While these two men may draw in some of the crowd, it might be up to the poker world to make the film a success.

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