Movie Review: Russell Crowe shows off his “Poker Face” in this Aussie thriller

Every movie opens with a world of possibilities and steadily, one by one, closes off those directions it might take. A good film is one that presents promising options, picks a more intriguing and perhaps less expected one, and maybe trips up our expectations along the way.

Russell Crowe‘s new writing, directing and starring effort “Poker Face” opens with piece of Aussie childhood that climaxes with a teenaged poker bluff that foils a bully. We then meet the adult poker player (Crowe) as he’s losing himself in the paintings at a museum. His sad-faced guise intrigues an attractive artist who furtively snaps pictures and clumsily tells him “I want to paint you.”

In in the third scene, our rich gambler drives his black Rolls Royce out into the country to consult a sage old shaman (the great character actor Jack Thompson) who “reads” him, figures out our hero’s state of mind and his health, reassures him that “You will know when it’s time” and passes on something that might give him “comfort” knowing that he has “some means of control.”

Three sequences set up a man with a past full of childhood friends, a gambling “career” that paid handsomely, a terminal illness and the interest of a painter, who might like more than his face, his “story” for instance.

From that collection of possibilities, “Poker Face” draws to an inside straight — a straight-up heist picture. And what’s the first rule of poker, mate?

Never draw to an inside straight.

Liam Hemsworth, the rapper turned writer-director-actor RZA, Aden Young, Steve Bastoni and Daniel MacPherson play the adult “oldest friends” who race a Roller, a Bentley and a Maybach to rich host Jake’s clifftop modernist mansion for one last poker game.

Molly Grace plays the widowed Jake’s daughter, who doesn’t know, and Brooke Satchwell plays an ex-wife who does.

And Paul Tassone is the fiery, ruthless leader of the gang that busts in on the festivities.

Crowe isn’t a first time director, but this heartless bore of a thriller makes one forget the pleasures of “The Water Diviner.” He leans on voice-over narration to deliver attempted profundities.

“If luck is leaving you, apply what you can to change its motion…Maximize your wins, minimize your losses.”

He tries to animate the poker game itself with extreme close-ups of players, chips and cards, and never makes the stakes seem high or the results remotely interesting. Even the in-game banter is shockingly mundane. But then, this isn’t “Rounders” or any of a slew of better gambling pictures. Crowe is rarely dull as an actor, but his poker-faced turn in “Poker Face” proves the exception to that rule.

The shifts in tone, stakes and genre are abrupt and so clumsily-handled you’re allowed to wonder “What just happened?” And the heist is such a non-starter as to leave one at a loss as to what the Oscar winning actor, one of my favorites, ever saw in this.

Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: Russell Crowe, Liam Hemsworth, RZA, Aden Young, Brooke Satchwell, Molly Grace, Steve Bastoni, Daniel MacPherson, Benedict Hardie, Paul Tassone, and Jack Thompson

Credits: Directed by Russell Crowe, scripted by Stephen M. Coates and Russell Crowe. A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:35


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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2 Responses to Movie Review: Russell Crowe shows off his “Poker Face” in this Aussie thriller

  1. Cheese it’s says:

    This movie was amazing if you look alittle deeper
    It goes right over others heads

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