A young man is a reformed gambler who must return to playing big stakes poker to help a friend pay off loan sharks.
Year 1, Day 162
BEFORE: Rounders is a little film the stars a young Matt Damon towards the beginning of his career. Based off of the plot summary from IMDb (see below), the film seems very similar to one of my favorite films, 21. Young kids, card games, and all-around shenanigans have me very interested to see how this film plays out.
AFTER: Much like a hand of poker, Rounders varies wildly in its entertainment. There are moments of winning and excitement and those of losing and monotony.
The biggest asset to the film was definitely the acting. Matt Damon and Edward Norton play the two rounders (or high stakes poker players) brilliantly. The role seems to be made for Damon especially coming off his stint as math savant Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting. It is such good casting and seems unthinkable to picture anyone else in Damon’s role. Also rounding out the royal flush of acting is John Malkovich who does a fantastic job as the Russian mobster Teddy “KGB”. The bookend scenes of Damon and Malkovich playing poker against each other are easily the highlights of the film as you see these two strong men face off against each other in a battle of wits and determination.
But while there are some good hands to be played, there are also some weak hands which force a bluff trying to trick the viewer into thinking the actions are more interesting than they actually are. The premise of the film and the reason why Mike McDermott (Damon) needs to win $15,000 is very interesting but some of the subplots and mini-scenes lack the same intensity and thrill that the big poker games at the beginning and end of the film. McDermott’s girlfriend (Gretchen Mol), the law professors, and even John Turturro’s character, Knish, were obviously there to drive the story along couldn’t really stand by themselves. The scenes weren’t difficult to watch but there was nothing really memorable about them and I’ll probably forget them in a few months.
Rounders is a film for poker players. There are a lot of terms and strategies thrown around throughout the film and as someone who is only slightly familiar with poker, I was able to get a grasp of what was happening, but I feel it would be more enjoyable to someone who is a professional player. There is still a lot of entertainment and the big games really get your heart pounding and for the most part they overshadow the less memorable scenes. I’d recommend watching it just to see Matt Damon and John Malkovich but it will not be making the best-of lists.
RATING: 3 out of 5