Jack Foley (Russell Crowe) is a tech billionaire. When Jake receives saddening news, he takes time out and seeks healing in the Australian bushland. After returning home, he decides to host a poker game, inviting his closest friends, who haven’t spoken with him in a while, to play a high-stakes game. His friends, Michael (Liam Hemsworth), Alex (Aden Young), Paul (Steve Bastoni), Andrew (RZA) & and his lawyer Sam (Daniel MacPherson), all accept, and we soon learn that Jake has other intentions for them throughout the evening. Not only is Jake keen on playing a solid round of Poker with high stakes, but he also wants his friends’ secrets to be laid out in front of him.
Poker Face is best described as a slow-burning drama and somewhat of a minor thriller. For those not aware, the film was directed by its leading star, Russell Crowe, who also serves as a writer. This isn’t the first time Russell Crowe has directed a feature-length film. Poker Face is quite different to his directorial debut, The Water Diviner (2014). It’s evident that Russell Crowe is constantly attempting to do something new and creative behind the camera, and the same can be said about some aspects of Poker Face.
As a plot, this is a major slow burn with a promise and a plot outline that sounds big. While the visuals are strong and the aspects of sound effects are great, sadly, I found the first act quite challenging as it felt slow. As the second act begins, the pace picks up a little more, and the story’s core gets underway. The third act dips down into a slower pace and even changes from what the film initially claimed it would be. The deck of cards are laid out up front, causing the film to lack any form of shock and thrills.
Performances are generally acceptable, with Russell Crowe delivering the more robust performance out of the many who appear here. Characters, for the most part, are usually unlikeable, and audiences will struggle to cheer any of them on (even those who are, in fact, innocent). The majority of the side characters are seemingly emotionless, and I’m saddened to say no amount of makeup and hairstyle work can convince me that Michael, played by Liam Hemsworth, is supposed to be the same age as Jake, played by Russell Crowe.
Overall, while the film serves a promising premise delivered by a talented cast, what gets dealt is a failing hand of cards. Poker Face reveals its secrets early, causing it to in turn lack any form of mystery and suspense throughout. It’s also somewhat misleading as it builds large and promises big things, but the direction the film takes is weak and, for the most part, uninteresting. While the film packs some great visuals and effects, it is still a slow-burning story that struggles to get underway and doesn’t conclude firmly with its finale.