Review: “Rounders” Captures The Drama Of High Stakes Poker

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.

Classic Poker Scenes, Rounders - Top 10 Films

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

Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: David Levien, Brian Koppelman
Starring: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Gretchen Mol, Famke Janssen
Released: 1998 / Genre: Drama/Sports / Country: USA / IMDB
Buy on DVD: DVD DVD | Blu-ray
More reviews: Latest | Archive
Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    CMrok93 Reply

    It’s almost like the film Rocky, with cards and chips in it, rather than fists and blood, however there is some of that here too.

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    Jaccstev Reply

    Never watched this film but it seem nice according to your review.

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    JapanCinema Reply

    You know what, I seriously don’t know how this film has passed me by all these years. The cast is stellar and refreshing my memory by reading your review, it sounds like I need to get a hold of it ASAP!

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    Richard Reply

    I enjoyed this one. I remember how badly I wanted to smack Norton in the mouth, which is testament to his performance. Good review!

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    Joel Burman Reply

    Nice review. I like rounders eventhough it has some serious flaws. I am still waiting for the perfect poker film until then I watch Lucky You with Eric Bana its the best in the genre.

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