Coming from a weary gambler, trust me when I say Giles Borg’s Flutter misses far too many beats. You won’t feel the gut-wrenching loneliness of a debilitating bad beat, nor the euphoric high of cashing in on a big win. True gamblers are in it for the sheer thrill of lady luck’s unreadable fate, yet Stephen Leslie’s screenplay remains relatively tame in the face of high stakes and higher rewards. This is a thriller based on compulsive betting, yet it feels about as dangerous as a game of truth or dare, even with human souls on the line. Blame that on strangely sluggish pacing, unequal wagers, and silly terms of acceptance, but no matter what angle you take on this suspenseless thriller, you’re bound to turn up a loser.
Borg’s film opens with a man named John (Joe Anderson) and a moral dilemma – can John kill a hospitalized man for undisclosed reasons? We don’t yet know why or how the gambler found himself in such a precarious situation, but it’s not long before we’re brought to the beginning of it all.
John is a “professional” gambler who dismisses luck in favor of science, wasting nights at the local greyhound track with his buddies Adrian (Luke Evans) and Wagner (Max Brown). His bookie, a woman named Stan (Anna Anissimova), reveals that if John ever wants to play for higher stakes, she takes more interesting bets on the side. Intrigued, John follows up on the request, and ends up extracting his own tooth for a few thousands British pounds. This is where John’s spiral into more eventful wagers begins, as we come full-circle to the same moment where John’s fate is introduced after weaker bets evolve into one life-changing decision.
The fact is, Cheap Thrills is an unequivocally better film on the same subject. Stan is supposed to be this ruthless, world-crumbling bookie who enjoys toying with people in depraved ways, yet her methods never strike the intensity we crave. Gambling is all about unnecessary risk, yet John wagers things like a goldfish or crystal bowl against sitting in a bathtub for a whole week, or NOT kissing someone who isn’t his wife. Yet, John loses that bet in a matter of seconds, as all Stan has to do is capture his unflinching gaze while leaning in slowly – the most ridiculous of all John’s losses. Sure, this leads to some relationship drama, but there’s a constantly underwhelming nature about the perils John is faced with, even a biological experiment that turns him into a human guinea pig. A gambler knows that distinct rush of adrenaline that comes with each bet – something Flutter misses completely.
Stephen Leslie relies too heavily on narration, which lessens the development of characters and diminishes actions on screen. One of John’s two friends has a nasty accident after they all fight about something Stan says, but because we know so little about the mook, his demise doesn’t bring about the emotional low that such a moment deserves. It’s a rushed reveal, and his exit brings to light bigger questions of pacing that quickly shuffle through John’s obsession with that “one last score” – an obvious hole that compulsive gamblers find themselves in.
Flutter is awkwardly structured to boot, as John’s motivations and connections fluctuate with different intensities that just don’t match up. He loves his wife, yet can’t fight off Stan’s gaze for seconds? He’s worried about a goldfish dying? He wants to nix a scientific bet AFTER his wife kicks him out, when he could just make the score and THEN explain it all to his lover, Helen (Laura Fraser)? Far too much doesn’t add up, and as a gambler knows, if the odds aren’t there, you just walk away – a bit of art imitating life, in that respect.
Joe Anderson’s performance is solid, but his character’s composition never becomes more than a jumbled mess. Billy Zane pops up as a sketchy dentist, Luke Evans plays the jilted friend, and Anna Anissimova tries to act mysterious (with little intrigue), but it seems like Stephen Leslie is bluffing his way through this seedy thriller based on underground gambling. Flutter has no right to be so drab, and Giles Borg does little to transform his latest from being a long shot to a sure thing. When you roll the dice on a film shelved since 2011, the odds aren’t usually in your favor – better luck next time, I guess.
Flutter seems like a safe bet, but its flimsy structure crumbles like a house of cards caught in a strong breeze.