The year 1998 was a little before Matt Damon reinvented himself as Jason Bourne, who was basically a better and meaner Bond albeit without much by way of a past memory. This was the year he was cast , as Mike McDermott, in Rounders. Early in the movie, Mike chats with his girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol) about his poker-playing and she expresses incredulity that Mike associates with someone called ‘Worm’ (Edward Norton). That exchange underlines the essence of the movie: the two lives that Mike McDermott lives. One is as Mike the law student, and the other is the exciting and uncertain life of a “rounder” who mingles with sleazy card-sharps and shady underworld figures.
The makers have done some serious research and are able to give the viewers a peek into New York’s underground high stakes poker world. Not that we’d be able to verify, but it looks and feels authentic all the same. Technical brilliance is where most of the good qualities of the movie exist. but, the drama is not all that engaging. And that’s just the beginning.
Matt Damon fails to look convincing as the shrewd poker player who’s confused about what he really wants (did we mention he’s also a law student?). That’s especially so when he’s shown making hardened card-sharps part with their ill-gotten money. By the way, that is only until he gets cleaned out by bigger fish, a Russian gangster who goes by the name of KGB (John Malkovich). That sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The remaining film can simply be summed up thus: Mike quits poker on Jo’s say-so, but then old buddy ‘Worm’ comes back from prison and Mike has to help him pay off a long-standing debt. The two go on a poker-spree to achieve just that by hook or by crook.
Sounds familiar? It did to us. Rounders is, at its core, a heist movie. It’s the age-old formula of a con going on the straight, only to come back for one last bank/ heist job in order to, take your pick: settle an old score, pay off a debt, save a friend’s life, or all three. Rounders just modifies that formula to fit the context of poker. In the end, the good guy wins back his honour and his money, and all is well with the world. No surprises there: it’s Hollywood, and winning in the end is kind of part of the job description for the hero.
Rounders hits, more than it misses. It is heavy on techniques and jargon, more familiar to those who watch televised poker, or frequent the smoky prednisone order rooms of Vegas as well as Atlantic City. The dark side of those rooms is effectively unwrapped in this movie. Dahl is an superb filmmaker and intense storyteller. He makes you feel and see sides of the world, that some of us would rather not. The movie is slow in pace, but then again, so is life itself. In the beginning, I thought I was going to see Good Will Hunting goes to Vegas (as witnessed by a nice scene at a poker game), but the movie ups the ante by going into the abuse of a talent, and the repercussions of the actions. Like only a few other filmmakers can, he lets you know the people here, and makes you care, and makes you leave the theater re-evaluating your own life, and the chances you take. See a matinee of this one, if you are patient, or have a strong knowledge of cards.
For the most part, the performances are done very well. I would highly recommend this movie for people to go see. You do not really need a background in the fundamentals of poker to understand the plot or language. The plot is very believable in which a person can definitely relate to how one person (McDermott) could be placed in this situation. It makes people see the dark side of the gambling underworld and all of the corruption involved. This would not be a movie I would consider bringing the whole family to. Younger kids would have a difficult time understanding this movie and their are some scenes that show violence which also may not be appropriate for children. I would give this movie a two and a half star rating.
So far, not so bad; what really proves to be the movie’s downside is that it tries to be too many things. It’s a sports film, but the protagonist plays the illegal version of it. It’s almost a heist film, but for the fact that poker is a sport. And it finishes off by being a coming-of-age tale, as Mike decides to stop being so confused. Instead of messing around with the illegal (and dangerous) variety of poker, he takes his winnings from the climactic finale game and heads to Vegas to be a legit player.
All in all, it is an entertaining film. Poker enthusiasts will appreciate the technical accuracy of the film; everybody else will like it for the caper it is at its heart. Those expecting a classic in the same league as The Cincinnati Kid, however, may be mildly disappointed