2022, Movies

Poker Face (2022, Russell Crowe)

There is a subgenre of mystery where an extremely rich man invites a bunch of old friends somewhere remote to play a game, most recently seen in Glass Onion, but for me most memorably in The Last of Sheila. (See also Murder by Death and Clue where it’s strangers or acquaintances. Notably, all these are comedies. I’m sure there are serious versions but I can’t think of any at the moment.) This film plays off that trope but it is a very different film, not a puzzle-box mystery at all.


Instead, this film combines that trope with a fantasy about legacy and a Panic Room-type heist/robbery. It’s a really weird combination that only sometimes works. Additionally, it’s directed by someone who, though not a first time direct, is maybe not the surest directorial hand.

So, the story is a little weird. Russell Crowe’s character appears to be playing one of these weird games with his childhood friends but then he’s not actually playing much of a game, it’s more just a weird trick that would seem really mean if he wasn’t in the state he was in and also extremely rich. There’s a lot of smoke here and not much fire, as the whole thing seems mysterious and like one of those rich mystery games, but it’s not.

Then they get robbed and it turns into billionaire Panic Room and that is definitely unexpected, a neat little twist on where the film seemed to be going. These robbers provide the vast majority of the comic relief and it’s a little weird as the first death in the film is played for laughs, when the film really isn’t a comedy. They continue to be the comic relief up until the climax, which is strange.

But then the denouement is someone’s fantasy of what they would do if they were rich, I guess, and that fits at least somewhat weirdly with tricking his friends earlier.

The casting is super weird. Hemsworth is hilariously younger than the rest of them and even younger than the lawyer. It’s just a weird decision that undermines the film, especially once he cleans himself up.

And the film is overdirected. The opening is heavy on montage and the film is heavy-handed with the “life is a game” thing, especially with the climax. Like, we get he bluffed him. You don’t need to cut to cards.

I think this would have been more effective with some tonal consistency and a better director, but it’s still a pretty weird mashup of what feels like three separate ideas, or at least two.


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