I'm not a fan of slasher films, but intrigued with the description,
which involved a rookie detective listening to stories of veteran cops
at a poker game; stories that later come to help him escape a
life-or-death situation, I gave this movie a shot.
The protagonist is an immediately likable and sympathetic rookie detective, portrayed subtly and effectively by the young actor Beau Mirch. (On a tangent: I love it when directors cast people the actual age of the characters in the roles as it's rare to see anyone under 30 playing anything other than high schoolers.)
Narratively, the story invokes a now commonplace introduction - starting at a climactic moment to come, without context, then backtracking to the events leading up to that initial moment presented. The film also makes use of voice-over from the get-go, combining a gritty detective film noir element into the overall feel of the film.
The stakes and the plot lines in this movie are so deeply woven, intertwined, and conflicting that you find yourself wanting so many things for the characters, while constantly trying to learn who these people are and how they got here to begin with.
From a writing perspective, POKER NIGHT writer/director Greg Francis has pulled off quite a feat in that he seamlessly weaves in and out of miniature stories told by the police officers he's in a rite of passage sort of poker game with, then weaves that in with the core storyline - which involves the protagonist's detainment and quest to escape a life-threatening scenario, to save another central character's life, and to understand who the masked antagonist, why he is so intent on wreaking heartless havoc, and why he's targeted a detective of all people in the first place.
The movie does incredibly well to constantly bombard you with questions, leading astute viewers to not only to consider all the questions the protagonist clearly has, given the situation he is in, but questions like what big twist the writer has set you up for. It's something you know has to be coming, but the writing does well to give you just enough clues to help you form multiple plausible theories you go back and forth between, and which constantly evolve, just like a real detective on a tough case would face.
Stylistically, the movie feels like a combination of FIGHT CLUB and BOONDOCK SAINTS - equal parts dark and fun, with unique, confused and courageous characters enduring a violent journey into unchartered territories. It also brings dark, gritty, nihilistic, noir elements to stage, the way a movie like SE7EN did. All in all, it's hard to reduce the movie to any it's this meets this sort of characterization, as so many memorable elements of so many memorable films seem drawn upon and juxtaposed to unique and memorable effect.
POKER NIGHT is a baffling work in that it carries with it a grounded story with a clear villain and high stakes, but set in a world that feels like it should never make its way to the suburbs - which is an element I suspect many viewers will find particularly disturbing. This is the story of a detective being tried as a rookie in his first real bind - which is perhaps the ultimate bind to be in, up against a character so driven by completely self-indulgent motivations, and such a mastermind of this world he's created, that he may as well be the devil himself.
The masked menace simultaneously disgusts while in some subtle form tapping into a deeply buried part of the modern man who's living in a highly structured world and whom may, on some primal level, want to break the bounds of societal expectation and live a life by a code of one's own invention; a sort of amoral Nietzschian Übermensch character - fully developed in its sense of having defined what it wants to do and doing it, regardless of the obstacles or consequences.
To create a character that is that is so deplorable, yet so intriguing that you want him to stay alive long enough for you to decipher and understand him better, because you wonder, on some level, if a piece of this thing is inside you kept at bay because of your principles, ethics, beliefs, and societal controls. Being able to incite such introspection in viewers is the mark of an extremely well crafted villain.
I think it's that smidgen of that evil being that you can identify with and on some unspoken level understand, that makes you have enough respect for this heinous villain that you want to hear his story. At the same time, you find yourself praying that the protagonist, utilizing the wisdom that's been imparted to him by his mentors at the poker game, can beat his formidable opponent through wit, calm under pressure, and relentless determination.
I won't speak to any "big twists" in the movie, as merely saying that term implies a certain structure and makes the movie less fun to watch, but rest assured - your expectations will likely be defied and your detective skills will be tested, throughout the confusing, frustrating, and violent, and disturbing journey that POKERNIGHT takes you on.
I wish this movie had been packaged differently because what to me appeared to be a throwaway low budget horror movie was instead an interesting and exciting journey into a world you don't want to be in but can't help but grasp something coming out of.
Oh, by the way, Gus from BREAKING BAD plays one of the cops! That in itself makes this thing worth watching. :)
I recommend this movie, though only to very mature viewers who enjoy smart thrillers and layered storytelling.
Action / Crime / Horror / Thriller
Action / Crime / Horror / Thriller
When you become a detective in Warsaw Indiana - you go to Poker Night, where you play against some of the best cops in the business. They tell you stories about their time on the job - their successes and failures. When new Detective Stan Jeter leaves the game, he is caught by a vicious psychopath and locked in a basement. Using the stories he heard at Poker Night, he must match wits against his captor - and save not only himself, but the young girl trapped in the basement with him. Like Seven and Usual Suspect, Poker Night combines thrills and twists and turns that will leave you guessing till the very end.
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January 23, 2015 at 04:49 PM