Genre: Thriller
Director: Russell Crowe
Cast: Russell Crowe, Liam Hemsworth, RZA, Elsa Pataky, Aden Young, Steve Bastoni, Daniel MacPherson, Brooke Satchwell, Molly Grace, Paul Tasson, Jack Thompson
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 29 December 2022

Synopsis: Set in the world of high stakes poker, Crowe stars as tech billionaire and gambler Jake Foley who gives his best friends a night they'll never forget, a chance to win more money than they've ever dreamed of. But to play, they'll have to give up the one thing they spend their lives trying to keep…their secrets.

Movie Review:

Its poster may want you to think that it is a poker movie or a heist thriller, but ‘Poker Face’ is neither. It is however probably one of Russell Crowe’s most personal films to date, and by that we’re not just referring to the one other he’s directed (that is, the 2014 historical drama ‘The Water Diviner’) but also the ones he’s starred in.

That isn’t surprising if you’ve heard of how Crowe came by the project, boarding the shoot just five weeks before and rewriting the script to change the setting from Miami to Sydney in consideration of the COVID-19 lockdowns back in 2020. Crowe’s own father had also passed away 10 days before the shoot, which is probably why he had given the story such a strong ruminative slant.

The synopsis mentions how Crowe plays a tech billionaire named Jake Foley who gathers his best friends for a high-stakes game that would require them to give up their secrets for a chance to win more money than they had ever dreamed of; what it fails to say is how Foley is dying, and has set up the night as a means of teaching his friends to face up to reality, just as he has been forced to.

Lest you think we’ve let out a spoiler, you should know the first act makes clear Jake is grappling with his mortality, what with scenes of him sitting in an art gallery and getting lost in the paintings, recalling the tragic death of his first wife and reflecting on how much he loves his daughter, and visiting a shamanic retreat where he discerns that the end of his life is like a force of nature he cannot control. It is at the retreat that Jake also receives from the shaman (Jack Thompson) a truth serum, which he intends to use on his friends in order to ferret out their lies.

Each one of them is flawed in his own way. Micky (Liam Hemsworth) is a suicidal addict. Alex (Aden Young) is a liar on too-intimate terms with Jake’s wife. And Paul (Steve Basconi) is a corrupt, compromised politician; worse, thinking that the invitation would be for Jake’s penthouse suite overlooking the Sydney Opera House, he has set his brother to steal the art collection at Jake’s country house. Even after telling his brother that they will be at the country house instead, Paul fails to convince the band of armed thieves (Paul Tassone, Matt Nable, Benedict Hardie) to abort the theft.

To make matters more complicated, Jake’s wife Nicole (Brooke Satchwell) and daughter Rebecca (Molly Grace) show up at the house just as it is being invaded, after the latter discover Jake’s medical reports and realise to her horror that her father is dying. Though the pace does pick up, those looking for a thrilling payoff will probably be disappointed – after a quick huddle in Jake’s panic room, the group of friends decide to confront the thieves in order to rescue Jake’s wife and daughter, with the showdown over and done with in less than 15 minutes.

Any expectation of ‘Poker Face’ as a revenge puzzle or captivity thriller will inevitably be left underwhelmed, for though Crowe has elements of both in the second and third acts of his movie respectively, neither is his intention. Only in the concluding minutes does Crowe finally reveal what he had in mind, and that is to reflect on how short life can be as well as therefore the importance of making the best out of the time that we are given to spend. It’s not hard to guess why he had chosen to make this the ultimate point of the movie, not least given where he was in his life when he was making this.

Whether that is reason enough to look past the deficiencies of this personal project is suspect; still, there is at least purpose to the endeavour, and Crowe is as always eminently watchable. Remember: don’t go in expecting a poker movie or a heist thriller; instead, allow this to be the peculiar trifle as it is about friends, fragility and forgiveness. It may not leave you with a smile on your face, but at least it won’t leave you stony-faced.

Movie Rating:

(Probably one of Russell Crowe's most personal movie to date, this mix of poker drama, revenge puzzle and captivity thriller refuses to commit to either and emerges as an unlikely lesson in mortality)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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