Runner Runner Writers Explain Poker Movie Motivations

OddsShark.comFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2013

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 18: Joe Tehan competes at the third Main Event on the final day of the Epic Poker League Inaugural Season at the Palms Casino Resort on December 18, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images for Epic Poker)
Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Runner Runner debuts in theatres Oct. 4, but those hoping for the next great poker movie will not find it, according to the writers of the script.

David Levien and Brian Koppelman, most famous for writing the movie Rounders that helped launch the modern poker boom, said in an interview this week that it's a thriller set against the backdrop of online poker.

That differs from Rounders, which was a poker movie at heart, as they explained in a Q&A session with me.

Q: So we’re 15 years post-Rounders now, what inspired you guys to do another poker-themed movie?

A: We don’t really consider Runner Runner a poker movie. It’s a thriller set against online gambling. The movie starts out centered around poker because a character is cheated by an online poker site, but it’s more about the business of online poker, the same way a movie like The Firm is set around a law firm and the Mafia.

We’ve always been interested and attracted to the world of online betting and the gaming industry, and this seemed like a logical subject to dive into because it’s so popular and no one is doing movies about it.

Q: The timing of Rounders was so crucial to the growth of Texas Hold'em and the online gaming industry in general. When you guys were creating Runner Runner, did you think that the movie could play a big role in the potential legalization and regulation of online poker in the U.S.?

A: We didn’t work with any of those considerations. At the time that we wrote Rounders, we weren’t thinking that we could be at the head of a poker boom, we just found it fascinating. The underground poker clubs in New York were really interesting. We loved the way the characters talked, acted and we just wanted to tell a story set in this world.

There was no thought on a 15-year anniversary or anything when we wrote Runner Runner. We started working on this movie in 2008/2009 and didn’t give any consideration to how it might play into legislation.

Q: So if the movie isn’t about poker, would you say it’s about greed or ambition? What kind of picture were you guys trying to paint with Runner Runner?

A: I think you’re hitting it right on the head there. It’s a story about how you can rationalize all sorts of behavior to yourself; it’s about redemption; it’s about standing up for yourself and living on the edge.

We started working on the movie shortly after the Wall Street crash when we noticed that a lot of smart, young guys with heavy math backgrounds started playing poker for a living instead of becoming analysts at Goldman Sachs.

Runner Runner opens Friday, Oct. 4th, featuring a wild ride set in Costa Rica (it was actually filmed mostly in Puerto Rico) and stars Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. Poker pro Antonio Esfandiari was also involved in the movie.