Rounders

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Rating: R

Starring:
Matt Damon as Mike McDermott
Edward Norton as Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy
Paul Cicero as Russian Thug
John Turturro as Joey Knish
Ray Iannicelli as Kenny
Gretchen Mol as Jo
Famke Janssen as Petra
Merwin Goldsmith as Sy
John Malkovich as Teddy KGB
Martin Landau as Abe Petrovsky
Sonny Zito as Tony
Michael Rispoli as Grama
Melina Kanakaredes as Barbara
Mal Z. Lawrence as Irving
Josh Mostel as Zagosh

Special Features:
Set-Top Game – “Heads Up Texas Hold ‘Em”

Behind-The-Scenes Special

Inside Professional Poker

Feature Commentary with Professional Poker Players Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moneymaker, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson

Feature Commentary with Director John Dahl, Screenwriters David Levien, and Brian Koppelman, and actor Edward Norton

Champion Poker Tips (From Four Professionals)

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French Language Track
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 121 Minutes

Synopsis:
Rounders was originally released in 1998.

Mike McDermott is a young, hotshot poker player in New York. Besides going to law school during the day, he plays in secret high stakes card games at night. Mike has a natural talent for playing poker. He goes from game to game as a ’rounder’ winning money. However, after losing $30,000 in one game to Russian mobster Teddy KGB, he permanently swears off gambling.

Nine months later Mike’s best friend Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy gets out of jail. Worm is eager to get back into gambling and he owes a lot of money, so he asks Mike to help him out. Despite Mike’s better judgment, he goes ahead and helps Worm win some cash. But what starts out as a little innocent poker playing soon turns into an obsession as Mike regains the thrill of the game. It gets to the point where it threatens his relationship with his girlfriend Jo.

Things get worse, though, when Worm runs afoul of the mob. He even pulls Mike down with him as he gets further and further in debt. Will Mike help out his friend and potentially sacrifice his law degree and girlfriend in the process?

Rounders is rated R for pervasive strong language, some sexuality and brief drug use.

The Movie:
I missed Rounders when it came out in 1998, but I was impressed with the film when I saw it on DVD. It features an all-star cast, an interesting plot, and an intriguing look into the world of professional poker. You don’t have to know much about poker to enjoy this film, but it would help. I know nothing about the game, but I was pretty much able to follow what was going on despite all the unfamiliar terminology being thrown around.

I’m not quite sure what the ultimate theme of the movie was. At one point it seemed to be talking about the folly of gambling. After all, Mike loses big here and there. It’s doesn’t just cost him money, but his relationship and wellbeing, too. However, he also wins big and seems most alive when he does so, so gambling doesn’t seem that bad in the end. I also thought it was about bad friends corrupting good character. You see “Worm” pull Mike back into gambling and getting him in trouble with various criminals. However, Mike seems really happy to get back into gambling, so Worm doesn’t seem like such a corrupting influence. I guess the final theme of the movie was following what you enjoy most, and for Mike that’s gambling. I guess if you’re willing to take the risk and can make a living at it, that’s fine. However, it costs Mike a lot to follow his dream and he doesn’t seem all that bothered by it.

Matt Damon is excellent as Mike McDermott. Though I knew nothing about poker, he seemed very professional to me. Damon gets across Mike’s passion for the game very well. From the highs to the lows, he brings a lot of life to the character. Edward Norton is also excellent as Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy, but he’s not in the film as much as you would expect. This is very much Matt Damon’s film. Norton almost has a cameo role. He brings just the right amount of recklessness and attitude to Worm while still making him likable. You understand why Mike would continue to help the guy despite all the trouble he brings. Other amazing actors have small roles in the film. Look for John Turturro (O, Brother, Where Art Thou) as Joey Knish, Famke Janssen (X-Men) as Petra, and Martin Landau as Abe Petrovsky. John Malkovich is also noteworthy as Teddy KGB though his Russian accent is a little much to buy.

Rounders is a fantastic looking film. The sets for the secret poker games are all realistic looking. They go from games in seedy dives to executive country clubs. You really believe all these secret games could be going on in New York.

My only real gripe with the film was the excessive profanity. As the movie progresses, the dialogue uses the word “f**k” more and more. I think they managed to use it as a noun, adjective, and verb all in one sentence at one point. It was a turn off for me personally and I don’t think the film needed it at all.

If you haven’t seen Rounders before, I think you’ll find it worth checking out, especially if you like Matt Damon or Edward Norton. It’s an intriguing drama with all sorts of interesting characters.

The Extras:
There are a few extras included on this DVD:

Set-Top Game – “Heads Up Texas Hold ‘Em” – I hoped this game might teach me how to play poker, but it didn’t. They have a brief tutorial, but it asks more trivia questions than teaching you the rules of the game. I eventually gave up. The game allows you to play one game of poker, but after that it’s predictable and unplayable. Overall, though, it’s a nice idea for an addition.

Behind-The-Scenes Special – This is a brief “making of” special. It has your typical interviews with cast and crew, etc. The writers talk a little about how they got the idea for the film.

Inside Professional Poker – This is probably the most interesting of the extras. They talk about some of the real world poker competitions out there. You even see footage of Matt Damon and Ed Norton playing against some real poker players in a tournament.

Feature Commentary with Professional Poker Players Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moneymaker, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson – This is kind of a strange commentary in that none of these guys were really that involved in the movie (though Chan has a cameo). What they do offer is a critique of how poker was portrayed in the film. They say what was done right and they have no problem pointing out what was done wrong. If you’re a poker fan, I think you’ll really enjoy this commentary.

Feature Commentary with Director John Dahl, Screenwriters David Levien, and Brian Koppelman, and actor Edward Norton – Despite the glaring absence of Matt Damon, this is a pretty good commentary. You really learn that Norton added a lot of his own touches to the character. You hear stories from the set and a lot of jokes. Overall, it’s a lively and informative commentary. Fans of Ed Norton will want to check it out.

Champion Poker Tips (From Four Professionals) – Chan, Moneymaker, and the other offer a few brief tips on playing poker. Some of the tips are only a few second long, but there’s a lot of them. If you like poker, you may find this of use.

The Bottom Line:
Rounders is worth checking out if you like character dramas, poker, Matt Damon, or Ed Norton.

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