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A lot of attention is being paid to a number of exciting film releases expected in the next year or so. But one less-hyped project we’ve begun to hear about is an upcoming poker thriller starring Russell Crowe, called Poker Face. The film — not to be confused with the Rian Johnson mystery series of the same name — is currently in pre-production. But it does look as though it’s definitely going to be made.

Per early summaries of the film, Crowe will play a tech billionaire named Jake who hosts a high-stakes poker game for his childhood friends, at his estate in Miami. By the sound of things, Jake has mixed motives and will seek to bring “justice” to his friends over past issues — but sees his plans altered when a dangerous home invader interrupts the game. Frankly, that summary gives us all sorts of mixed vibes; it sounds like a thriller that’s equal parts Casino Royale, Rounders, and Agatha Christie adaptation.

With relatively little information available about the film beyond that basic summary though, we have some questions….

Who else is in it?

As of now, Crowe is the only cast member listed for Poker Face. Gary Felder is set to direct, with Stephen M. Coates penning the script. Aside from the fact that Felder has directed a few known figures before though (Nick Jonas, Matt Lauria, and Frank Grillo on the TV show Kingdom), there’s no connection to any other actors. The cast beyond Crowe is a total mystery, and when more names are revealed we may get a better sense of the tone (and caliber) of this project.

Will poker matter?

There are a lot of past poker films in which the game itself really matters. One has to understand the rules of poker, and even some basic strategies, to fully appreciate certain scenes in Rounders, Casino Royale, or Molly’s Game. Without at least that beginner’s understanding, one might not grasp why it’s dramatic when Daniel Craig turns over a certain pair of cards, or when Matt Damon deciphers an opponent’s tell. Poker may be a fairly straightforward game once one gets the hang of it, but going into these films with no knowledge of it can be a hindrance. So, will that be the case in Poker Face as well? By the sound of things the actual poker could either play a prominent role in the film’s first act, or become an afterthought quickly overcome by the thriller aspects of the project.

What is the real genre?

Carrying on from our last question, one wonders what the real genre of this project is. It’s being billed right now as a thriller, which makes sense given the past work of the writer and director. But it’s early enough that the film could still be shaped in a few different ways. Is it primarily a poker film with shades of mystery? Is it actually a mystery in that Agatha Christie vein? Or is it mostly a thriller that will have elements of action and horror in it? The simple synopsis leaves the door open for any of these possibilities (and Crowe would play convincingly in all of them).

Can this be the defining poker film of the 2020s?

Once again, we don’t really know what kind of role poker will play in this film. But if it plays a significant role, will Poker Face seize the inside lane on becoming the decade’s defining poker film? Interestingly when we look back, there actually does seem to be a single poker film that stands above the rest for each decade: Rain Man in the ‘80s, Rounders in the ‘90s, Casino Royale in the ‘00s, and Molly’s Game in the ‘10s…. There really isn’t a candidate for the present decade just yet, which actually gives Poker Face an interesting opportunity to earn an unofficial distinction that would give it some lasting clout.

Will it be good?

Russell Crowe is a legendary figure in film, capable of some of the best work in the business. His track record in the last decade or so is not particularly encouraging however. He’s had ill-fated ventures into blockbuster properties (Man Of Steel and The Mummy); his turn as Javert in Les Misérables was widely panned; and his return to ancient epics in Noah was a disappointment. One can argue that with the exception of The Nice Guys, he really hasn’t had a particularly strong project in 10 years. So the most important question regarding Poker Face is the simplest possible one: Will this one be good?







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