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
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
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.