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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Runner Runner

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Ben Affleck stars in a scene from the movie "Runner Runner."
 Set in the furtive, yet hugely profitable, world of online gambling, director Brad Furman's cat-and-mouse drama "Runner Runner" (Fox) makes for slick but forgettable entertainment.

Scenes of decadent sexuality, moreover, together with the steadily recurring vulgarities that pepper the dialogue, render this cautionary tale about the moral seduction of a basically decent protagonist too seamy for a wide audience.

Justin Timberlake plays our flawed hero, ruined Wall Street executive-turned-graduate student Richie Furst. The innocent victim of his former firm's downfall, Richie has abandoned the financial district in favor of the ivy-covered walls of Princeton University. There he earns most of his tuition from the fees a digital gambling concern pays him to steer his interested fellow students toward their website.

All this is very au courant and Occupy-ish, but not very exciting. So, enter the crusty old dean who lowers the boom on Richie's enterprise, leaving Richie to try to parlay his small savings into the hefty price of a master's degree from Old Nassau by doing some high-stakes betting of his own at a different site.

When this effort fails in spectacular fashion, Richie, certain that his massive loss was the result of cheating, sets off to Costa Rica to confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the elusive CEO of the offshore company under whose auspices he came up short. The charismatic Block is so taken with Richie that he not only refunds the lad's money, but offers him a high-flying job.

Sunsets, motorboats, wads of cash, not to mention tropical menswear reminiscent of an old episode of "Miami Vice"... what's not to love? Well, for one thing, the fact that Richie spends much of his workday delivering bribes to local officials. And, for another, the sordid, bedroom-based blackmail scheme to which Block convinces Richie to resort in the drive to steal a top dealer away from the competition.

As Richie becomes increasingly disillusioned with Block's shady ways, FBI Special Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) makes a timely appearance, and starts pressuring Richie to collect incriminating evidence against his new mentor. And love comes calling in the fetching guise of Block's corporate number two, and ex-girlfriend, Rebecca (Gemma Arterton).

Whatever lessons Richie learns from his ever more perplexing dilemma, a healthy wariness of materialism turns out, in the end, not to be among them.

The film contains brief but disturbing action violence, fleeting graphic images of group sex, rear nudity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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