The Poker Club (2009)
The Poker Club (2009)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 22 min.

Release Date: April 3rd, 2009 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tim McCann Actors: Johnathon Schaech, Johnny Messner, Loren Dean, Lori Heuring, Michael Risley, Jana Kramer, Judy Reyes

 


 

A

gritty, brutal little noir thriller, “The Poker Club” succeeds with a capable script and convincing performances. The story does slow at times, but once viewers realize the scope of the mystery, any lull only gives a few more seconds to try and guess the next clever twist. The film provides a prime example of how a solid story, interesting characters, and a little creativity can overcome the hindrances of a low budget.

Four friends meet once a week to play cards and revel in the freedom of their exclusive, rowdy social gatherings. Neil (Michael Risley), a biology teacher with a drug problem, Aaron (Johnathon Schaech), a mild-mannered father in a strained marriage, Curtis (Loren Dean), an ambitious firm worker, and Bill (Johnny Messner), an angst-ridden former baseball player, all find solace in their ritual poker nights. But disaster strikes when the group discovers a burglar in the house and accidentally kills the intruder. In a panic, they attempt to hide what they’ve done, but their situation soon spirals out of control as their crime, and their secrets, begin to surface.

Resourcefully based on a novel that requires very few sets and can accommodate a low-budget filmmaker’s passion for thrillers, “The Poker Club” offers as many twists and turns as it does genuine suspense. The moments that attempt white-knuckle intensity almost always succeed, amplifying the brash decisions and irrational ideas of the doomed protagonist, all arising from unfortunate ignorance. With the by-the-books cinematography, generic noir atmosphere, safe editing, and impressively flashy opening title sequence, there’s a definite independent film feel permeating the ante-upping plot progression and superb acting by lead star Johnathon Schaech.

There are four easily identifiable, opposing, and distinct personalities at work within the members of the club itself that offer the means for the necessary paranoid, regretful, insincere, and panicked character emotions that build each persona beyond paper-thin murder-mystery prototypes. Perhaps the most interesting aspect comes from a moment in the middle of the film, when one of the characters predicts a theory about the murderer – the exact idea going through the mind of the audience. Rarely does a film acknowledge the intelligence of the viewer so keenly, willingly allowing the roles to think what they should be thinking, and not wandering off on red-herring tangents for the sake of providing unsuspecting victims. Even if occasional scenes are a bit plodding, it is a grand achievement for “The Poker Club” to be made with a budget of under $1 million and play this well.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10