December 20, 2014
Beau Mirchoff as Jeter
Beau Mirchoff as Jeter
Ron Perlman as Calabrese
Giancarlo Esposito as Bernard
Titus Welliver as Maxwell
Ron Eldard as Cunningham
If there’s one thing Poker Night most definitely is not, it’s your everyday, run-of-the-mill, seen it 100 times movie. It isn’t exactly horror, either. A thriller tag doesn’t feel entirely appropriate, and while it is most certainly a dramatic piece, it’s got too much flare to be branded a standard drama. What Poker Night is is a clever, complex tale of education via hard knocks. Often brutally dark, occasionally quite enlightening and tense from minute one to minute 104, this is a feature aimed at those who are tired of the same old same. But if you take a quick glimpse at the synopsis you may be fooled into believing this is just another slasher flick with a Saw spin. It’s not. It’s a whole hell of a lot more than that.
Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) is new to the detective ranks in Warsaw Indiana, but he quickly learns that some traditions hold serious weight. The fact that he’s been welcomed to take part in one such tradition – pivotal poker get-togethers – is an honor that will soon help save his life. The local detectives utilize their time on poker night to share old war stories. Tales related to work, failures and successes. The horrors they’ve survived and the cases that remain unsolved. One by one each player recounts some profound occurrence, and in doing so, bestow Jeter with the knowledge that he’ll need to possess if he hopes to survive the capture and subsequent torture that he faces immediately after a night of poker. He wakes to find himself restrained. He suffers multiple beatings at the hands of a masked mad man. But he works – scratch that, he digs to find the memories of those poker accounts, and some of the info he acquired sitting around a wooden table with a beer in his hand is about to be the key to knowing how to survive and escape with his life.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a lot more to it than that. The flick is crammed full of engaging cinematography and a general cinematic style that refuses to relinquish its grip on the attention span. It’s hard to take your eyes off the movie, plain and simple. Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito, Ron Eldard and Titus Welliver have excellent characters to flesh out, and they don’t miss a beat in the quest to do so. Beau Mirchoff is a youngster with limited experience, but he does a damn fair job of keeping up with some very seasoned and strong performers. And the script, though a tad murky in the latter portions of the picture (an attempt to make things a bit too intricate temporarily slows momentum), far exceeds expectations (at least these expectations). Damn near everything about the film exceeded expectations, to be completely honest. Even the mask donned by our highly intelligent antagonist looks a bit creepy.
Drawing a comparison between Poker Night and any other single film is a challenge, and that’s a good thing. 2014 was a year that produced a plethora of superb pictures, and the creativity showcased in Poker Night is more than enough to include it in discussions of the best of ’14. Is it thebest, hands down, no questions asked? No, most probably wouldn’t label it such. But it’s every bit as entertaining as films like Honeymoon, Found and Exists, a few of the very best of the year. Perlman’s hard ass character, Calabrese is worth the price of admission alone. And he’s not even the key figure in the ensemble. Poker Night may not satisfy those in search of the goriest film of the year, but anyone up for a unique viewing experience, a strong cast and a damn sharp villain are going to find Poker Night to be more than simply adequate. Greg Francis has a hit on his hands.
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