Well first of all don’t watch this film at the cinema. It’s not really worth it. It was hard for me to put my finger on what was exactly wrong though. I suspect the answer is actually a lot of things : the story isn’t amazing, the acting while not bad is not always quite ‘right’ for the film, and you never feel enough of an emotional-connection to most of the characters to care about them. It seems like Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is the only one that counts, but with him there are problems too which I will get to later.
Desperately needing money for tuition fees Princeton student Richie risks and lose $17,000 at poker (all his savings). Not understanding how he could have lost, he puts the plays through an algorithm and concludes that the poker-site must be cheating. Angry he flys to Puerto Rico to confront the owner Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) and this sets up a chain of events whereby he ends up working for Block in a senior position. Of course Block’s business isn’t entirely reputable and Richie is soon in over his head. The FBI starts sniffing around, and Richie gradually begins to find out what Block is really up to but is it too late for him to get out?
Justin Timberlake is actually quite a good actor (he put in impressive performances in both The Social Network, and Southland Tales for example) but here he seems a little miscast. His student turned senior gambling boss never has the weight or depth to make you believe he is really capable of some of the things he does. He also often looks quite physically small against Ivan’s business partner Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton, his romantic interest). Is he really that small or is she just quite large? I suspect the former.
The key to this film is really making you believe that Richie Furst could be you, me or anyone of us. He’s an outstanding but otherwise normal student who ends up hopelessly out of his depth in lawless Costa Rica. His career, future life, his own father and even his own life are all at stake. It wants you to feel the fear that you could be easily be him, that you too could lose everything. This is where it falls down. It never fully achieves that, and as a result comes across a little bland and ineffectual at times. Without that deep connection between viewer and main character the story isn’t as exciting or menacing as it should be. If you have a spare hour and half by all means watch it. It’s just average not terrible. 5/10