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1998 - R - 118 Mins.
Director: John Dahl
Producer: Ted Demme, Joel Stillerman
Written By: David Levien, Brian Koppelman
Starring: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Gretchen Mol, Martin Landau, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Famke Janssen
Review by: Carl Langley

You're kidding me; Malkovich? Russian?
“Rounders” features two of my favorite actors, developed into matinee idols in their new-fledged careers and jampacked with talent. With that in mind, it is hard to state any arguments about John Dahl’s (“Red Rock West” and “The Last Seduction”) film starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich, and John Turturro.

Damon, fresh off his success in “Good Will Hunting,” was rising to A-list status quickly and “Rounders” not only bolstered his rank, but also set the tone for his rhythmic, suave image he used in other films such as “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Bourne Identity.” Norton, who had given the best performance of his career that same year in “American History X,” works well along side his co-star as Worm, who cannot get away from the lifestyle that once led him behind bars. Together, Damon and Norton constituted a powerful duo on screen and I hope they decide to work together in the near future.

The film begins with the narration of Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), a revolutionized gambler after losing his life savings to a Russian kingpin, Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), in a high stakes poker game. Now concentrated on his law degree and his future life with his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol), Mike does not even play poker for fun in order to kick the habit. But his best friend, Worm (Edward Norton), is released from prison and Mike meets him at the front gates with open arms. Worm is an avid card rogue and owes an encumbrance amount of money to bad people. Dragging his best friend into the mix, the troubles only escalades for Mike and Worm.

Even with warnings from his girlfriend and true friend Joey Knish (John Turturro), Mike vouches for Worm, saving him from intolerable pain or even death. But the deal is that they have to raise $15,000 in two days. This lures Mike back into his debt-filled world of poker, racing against time now to save both their lives. Pretty soon, Mike finds himself across the table from his best friend, desperately trying to win the money from the hands of state troopers, tourists in an Atlantic City casino, and his nemesis, KGB.

“Rounders” is very informative about the game of poker. It uses esoteric poker language and deals with the dangers of gambling. From the beginning, Mike is endowed as a skillfully sharp poker player, as it is portrayed in a game with judges. Even though he is not at the table, he tells each judge what they are holding in their hands. The climax of the film enrolls the viewers into the subculture world of poker, even if they have no knowledge about the game itself.

The film is directed by John Dahl, whose other noteworthy films include “Red Rock West” and “The Last Seduction.” This movie contains the old noir feeling attained when watching Dahl’s other films. The only bad asset of the film is the typical sports storyline – hero experiences devastation from enemy, and then battles them again in one big game at the end. From the beginning, it was easy to see that Mike and KGB would sit across from each other at the end, staring fiercely into each other’s eyes, guessing the next move of their opponent.

David Levien and Brian Koppleman’s screenplay features a simplistic, yet climatic story about playing the cards life deals you. Mike’s mentor, Abe Petrovsky (Martin Landau), states, “Our destiny chooses us.” It appears Mike’s destiny is poker, not becoming a lawyer. Petrovsky agrees to help Mike with his gambling debt because when he was younger, someone helped him become a lawyer instead of a rabbi (the relationship between these two characters is sadly undeveloped). If you can get over John Malkovich’s Russian accent and the unsharpened edges in the story, “Rounders” will lay out a full house for you.
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

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