Rounders (1998)

Directed by John Dahl
Written by David Levien & Brian Koppelman
Starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturro, John Malkovich, Martin Landau

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Mike McDermott (Damon) is a nice guy.  He's going to law school, he's got a nice girl, Jo (Gretchen Mol), he's got a decent apartment.  What else could he possibly want?  The thrill of kicking somebody's ass in a poker game, and more specifically, being the Numero Uno Poker Ass Kicker of the World.  I mean, hey, you gotta have goals, right?  But after Mike lets his Vegas-sized ego cloud his judgment, he loses his entire bankroll and swears off the cards forever in order to placate the aforementioned girl.  But when his old buddy Worm (Norton) shows up and needs some cash, the two go back into the pokerworld with great gusto, looking for a big stash.

This film tries to be The Hustler and ends up being The Color of Money, unfortunately.  Great actors, decent performances, but not a lot happens to make it worth its two hours running time.  Don't get me wrong, this film has some things that make it worth seeing.  Damon is good as the Will Hunting of card games, who is so good that when his game is on he can outplay even world champeens.  Norton is sharp as always, playing his character's name to the hilt and dragging Damon along for the ride.  The supporting performances are worthy as well, especially Turturro's soft-spoken card player who wants to be a mentor for the ever-wet-behind-the-ears Damon.  Malkovich has an interesting role as Teddy KGB, a connected Russian who runs an elite high-stakes poker room.  Can someone please tell me what part of Russia that accent comes from? 

Still, there are problems.  The relationship between Damon and Mol is not setup well enough to play the large role it does and has a tendency to take the film places it didn't need to go subplot-wise.  But my primary concern is that both Damon and Norton play differing types of self-destructive characters, and the back and forth from cheering them on and laughing with them to feeling sorry for them and wondering how stupid can they be doesn't feel like it was what Dahl or the screenwriters intended, thus making for an uneven film.

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