Running Time: 121 minutes
Starring: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturro, Gretchen Mol, Famke Janssen, John Malkovich
Directed By: John Dahl
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
A story about a guy who gets sucked back into the gambling world to help pay off a friend’s old debt.
Long before Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, and Phil Ivey became household names the movie Rounders was made. It glorifies and demonizes the game of poker and more specifically the game of Texas Hold’em. Rounders is the story of Mike McDermott. It details the underground high stakes poker scene. It also follows Mike as he gets sucked back into the world of gambling to help his friend pay off some substantial debt.
Poker and movies have always had a strong relationship. Maverick, Casino Royale, Shade, and many more come to mind but Rounders is easily my favorite. It is informative without being preachy. It is gripping without losing its realism. It is emotional without being sappy. Narrated by actor Matt Damon (it is hard not to say his name like in Team America) the film will appeal to poker enthusiasts and people who know nothing about the game alike. The film starts and we get to see Mike studying his way through law school. He has quit poker to focus on a more honest or steady career. Mike is a likeable guy and that is why this movie is so easy to get into. The film fully hits its stride after Mike’s friend Worm comes back into his life. They get back into their old gambling ways and it great to see the two of them work together. Mike narrates and navigates the viewer through a variety of different poker games. Casino games, high roller games, school games, It leads to lots of interesting characters and dialogue but more importantly it is a strong watch.
This movie would be nothing without its great cast. It is narrated and led by Mike played by Matt Damon. His cool and collected performance is coupled perfectly with his narration. He also allows the strong supporting cast to shine when they need to. His friend Worm played by Edward Norton deserves an Oscar nod for his performance. He is a charming card hustler that owns the role. He is pale and gaunt with an edge of sliminess. Norton and Damon play off each other and seem like genuine partners both at the table and in the outside world. Two other great performances were turned in by John Turturro and John Malkovich. Turturro plays this aging rounder (plays poker for a living) who sort of mentors Mike. His rough and tumble performance only adds to this film. John Malkovich plays Russian mob guy Teddy KGB. His accent and funny sayings are great even when the scene is dramatic and tense.
The movie plays out very much like poker does in real life. There are extreme shifts in momentum as you go along for the ride. Mikey and Worm win big and also lose big to try and payoff old gambling debts. The story is somewhat sad while displaying the demons of gambling addiction. That being said the movie seems to do everything right. I also really liked how Mike has a relationship but it is secondary to the card playing. The story is never dull and so throughout all the ups and downs you want to see how this story concludes. Everyone thinks they are a pro poker player but few have what it takes to be a rounder. This movie has something for everyone. It has success, betrayal, life on the line choices, and most of all lots of gambling. This will appeal to most people.
Director John Dahl puts together arguably the best movie about cards in cinematic history. A solid script (David Levien, Brian Koppelman) obviously helps out but the casting was superb. The ebb and flow of the story and darker camera work were excellent. He had a vision and executed it perfectly.
I give this movie a huge recommendation as it is like looking down at two aces as hole cards.
T Factor + If you like poker this could score higher on the rating scale.
T Factor – If you do not like poker this could score lower on the rating scale.
If you liked this film reel recommendations: Shade, 21