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Rounders (1998)

DVD Cover (Miramax)
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6.6
 / 10
6 votes
Genres:
Drama, Post-Noir (Modern Noir), Psychological Drama, Urban Drama
Director:
John Dahl John Dahl
Starring:
Matt Damon Matt Damon
Edward Norton Edward Norton
Paul Cicero Paul Cicero
John Turturro John Turturro
Ray Iannicelli Ray Iannicelli
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Review by Chad
Added: April 03, 2008
As a kid, I always thought that soccer (or football for those of you outside of the US) was one of the most boring sports imaginable; I mean, here's a game that goes on for hours and usually ends with a grand total of one goal having been made. Golf was another one that irked me: there's a game that features old farts hitting a tiny little ball from one end of a field to another and then going to hunt for said ball before knocking it into a hole in the ground. However, those sports are as exciting as WrestleMania in comparison to the semi-recent trend of airing poker tournaments on TV, because in soccer and golf, you at least get to see some physical activity. But poker? You get the honor of watching two guys sit at a table and play cards. Therefore, I had no intention of ever watching Rounders, and when I had a chance to watch it for free on a slow night, I really had no expectations of enjoying it. Shockingly, I was wrong.

Indeed, tonight's film is all about the game known as poker, a card game which requires a little bit of luck and a whole lot of skill. This little fact isn't lost on professional poker player Mike (Matt Damon), a man who loses thirty thousand dollars to Russian mobster KGB (John Malkovich) in the opening scenes of the movie. Devastated over losing every dollar that he'd saved for the last couple of years and having to go home to a furious wife (Gretchen Mol) means that Mike turns his back on the game for good and decides to make an honest living by driving trucks for a meager weekly paycheck.

Fast-forward nine months, and we learn that Mike's best friend Worm (Edward Norton) is getting out of jail and wants our hero to be there to pick him up. Worm is also a professional poker player, and back in the day, he and Mike used to tear the local games apart with their cheating ways. Of course, Worm doesn't know that Mike has quit playing the game, and when he discovers this, he does everything that he can to get him to make a grand return so that he can rebuild his bank account... and to pay off the mobsters who are breathing down his neck. John Turturro also appears in a relatively minor role.

So, what was it about this film that kept me interested? I'm not a fan of Matt Damon and I'm sort of neutral when it comes to Edward Norton, I can't identify with the characters that they're playing here, and as mentioned up above, watching a couple of guys play poker is far from my idea of a good time even when it's a legit game. I mean, with all of this in mind, I should have watched about two minutes of the film and pushed eject; why did I watch it from beginning to end and actually enjoy it?

Really, the main thing that kept me watching was the interaction between Damon and Norton, as I felt that those two guys turned in some great performances here and played off of one another exceptionally well. Even when I found myself not caring about their current situation and even when I started getting distracted by the unrealistic events that were taking place, I still enjoyed the hell out of watching these two work together. I may not be a huge fan of either man, but I have to give credit where it's due, and it was certainly due here.

In fact, the only thing that really bothered me about the film aside from a handful of scenes that could only happen in the movies was the way that we as an audience are expected to know all of the terminology and strategies of poker. I'll admit that I know nothing about the game (I've always been more of a Spades sort of guy) and I'll concede that the film was probably aimed at poker players in the first place, but it would have been nice had certain things been explained a little better for those of us watching at home. Granted, it's not terribly difficult to figure out when somebody wins and when somebody loses, but I think that I would have enjoyed it a little more had I understood what the leading men were talking about while they played the game. That's really a minor gripe though, and it's a gripe that you can completely overlook if you happen to be a fan of the game.

Overall, I enjoyed the film far more than I thought I would, a fact which surprised even me when you consider all of the strikes that it had against it before I sat down and watched it. Enjoyable, if not overly memorable. 6/10.
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Lucid Dreams #1: Lucid Dreams - added 06/11/2010, 12:58 PM
You were right about the chemistry of Damon and Norton, but I enjoyed this movie much more then you. It might be for the fact that I love playing poker though. 10/10
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