A skilled, reformed gambler must return to high stakes
poker to help a friend settle a debt to a Russian gangster.
Directed by Jon Dahl
Written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman
Starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich,
John Turturro, Martin Landau, Gretchen Mol, Famke Janssen
The poker scenes in Rounders put Casino Royale to shame. The film is a fantastic cult hit that I finally got around to checking out, and it is something else. Interesting, original characters, engaging story, and poker scenes that are tense as hell. Rounders sports an all-star cast of notable character actors, including John Malkovich's crazy turn as Russian gangster Teddy KGB. Damon and Norton are at their best, playing off each other like they've been doing it for years. And this was back when they were both still up-and-comers. Rounders is their hidden gem that needs to be seen by more people.
Damon plays Mike McDermott, a talented poker player who lost everything betting on the wrong hand against Teddy KGB. As a result, he swore off gambling and went straight. But when his best friend Worm (Norton) gets out of prison and wants back in the game, Mike is drawn back into the world of underground poker and finds himself having to pay back Worm's debt. The story is consistently exciting and never lets up, and the film actually teaches you a great deal about poker as it goes along. It's way more of a human study than a card game, and the film goes the extra mile to make those scenes particularly intense.
Rounders is a brilliant film that will leave you screaming at your TV. It came out right around the same time as The Talented Mr. Ripley and American History X, so it got majorly overshadowed. But it's a hell of a film and it's since gained a massive cult following. The performances are fantastic and memorable, the story isn't as cliched as you'd expect, and the characters are likable despite their many, many flaws. Give this one a chance, especially if you're into poker.