We rented “Poker Face,” Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, on the advice of someone who identified herself as a Russell Crowe fan.
The synopsis for the film read as follows: “A tech billionaire hosts a high-stakes poker game between friends, but the evening takes a turn when long-held secrets are revealed, an elaborate revenge plot unfolds, and thieves break in.”
I was glad I had read that Russell Crowe, portraying Jake Foley (the billionaire), had a terminal disease (pancreatic cancer). It took quite a while for this plot point to make its way to the screen. In that interim, the plot moved very slowly and there were far too many characters to try to follow the misdeeds or betrayals of each and every one of them.
Who were these boyhood friends that Russell summons to his expensive lair high above Sydney to play poker (and, as it turn out, to poison them)?
Mikey (Michael Nankervis), played by Liam Hemsworth, a fellow Australian actor.
Drew – (Andrew Johnson), played by RZA.
Paul – Steve Bastoni as Paul Muccino.
Alex – Aden Young as Alex Harris.
Sam (McIntyre) played by Daniel MacPherson.
That is way too many “leads” to follow in such the necessary amount of depth to find out who has done what to Russell to justify his inviting them all to his luxury penthouse to play high stakes poker.
The female lead is the wife of Liam Hemsworth’s older brother Chris: Elsa Patacky as Penelope.
Other main female characters were Brooke Satchwell as Nicole Foley and Molly Grace as Rebecca Foley.
The leader of a group that breaks into the billionaire’s house to rob him was Paul Tassone as Victor.
For me, there were too many characters to keep track of and some of the important plot points (like Jake Foley’s terminal illness) were not clear immediately. It also seemed as though there were two plots competing for attention. Wouldn’t the poker game and Russell Crowe’s vengeance against his old friends have been enough? Did we really need the additional gang of thugs planning to rob the tech billionaire at the very moment they are assembled in the luxurious penthouse to play poker?
The film had many musings on one’s mortality, including these scripted lines:
“All living things die.”
“Answers don’t always have the structure we expect. Sometimes the insistence of the question can drown out the response. Let’s go and untie some knots.”
“You will know when it’s time.”
“Opening up to others is one thing. Opening up to yourself may be hard.”
“Some people take comfort in knowing that they have some means of control.”
“They might not be the best decisions I’ve ever made, but at least I won’t live to regret them.”
Russell’s advice to his daughter: “Friendship and love start when you forgive imperfections. Listen to Drew the most.” (from the reading of the will).
If you want a more thrilling recent Russell Crowe film to stream try “Unhinged,” instead. It was the first film we saw after movie theaters opened up again post pandemic. It is best compared to “Duel.”