Rounders captures the drama of high stakes poker that will entice new fans to the game and make established poker players salivate for their next big win.
Rounders, a film about poker culture and the people who are involved (directly and indirectly) with the highs and lows of the game, could be a definitive Hollywood expose on the game’s new-age popularity if it wasn’t let down by wayward characterisations and poor plotting.
Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a great player who lost all his money and quit the game. When his best friend Worm (Edward Norton) gets out of prison owing money to the wrong sorts of people, Mike is forced back into the game he loves but at the cost of putting both his friendship, and his relationship to girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol), on the line.
The film is blessed with good performances – certainly from Norton (as usual) and Damon – but also from the excellent supporting cast including John Malkovich, Martin Landau, and John Turturro. Director John Dahl, who has given us such enjoyable films as Joy Ride, also gets the poker action spot-on, not just providing us with Texas Hold ‘Em but other forms of the game too. For people not versed in the game’s rules, etiquette, and slang, he throws in a whistle stop lesson, seamlessly interspersed in the action so as to not lose part of the audience. Indeed, when Rounders is concentrating on the game, it’s a winning formula of tension and ballsy attitude built on smoke-filled, sweat-drenched bluffs and high stakes.
Yet, Dahl’s control of the supporting characters lets the film down with both Mike’s relationship to his long-term girlfriend and, more importantly, his friendship with Edward Norton’s Worm, allowed to drift into the ether with no sense of closure. In fact, Norton simply disappears with twenty minutes remaining, his character becoming simply a passing mention in the film’s closing moments.
Yet, Rounders, despite its flaws, is an enjoyable, fast-paced sports-drama that will entice new fans to the game and make established Poker players salivate for their next big win.
Review by Dan Stephens