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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: Sept 27: Rounders


Sept 27: Rounders

"A young man is a reformed gambler who must return to playing big stakes poker to help a friend pay off loan sharks."
Directed by: John Dahl, Rated: R, 121 minutes

Poker is an incredibly popular sport, with it's popularity growing even more each year. Sure, it's not a contact sport like football, or as fast-paced as basketball. Hell, it doesn't even have the American past-time magic like baseball. But nonetheless, it's a very exciting game that pits man against man and can make or break someone (in seconds). So, it leaves you wondering why more movies haven't been about the sport. I mean, the game is thrilling in its own right so you can imagine how suspenseful a movie about poker could be. Well, keeping up with the earlier sports comparisons, Rounders is to poker what Field of Dreams is to baseball and Hoosiers is to basketball. 

Although I think corn whispering in poker would be considered cheating. 

Matt Damon plays Mike, a wannabe law student who struggles with an addiction to gambling. After losing everything he has to the Oreo-loving Russian, KGB (John Malkovich), Mike vows to never play again. However, an old friend from his past, Worm (Edward Norton), is released from prison and immediately wants back in the game. The two flirt with a couple of games, falling back into their old routines of playing off one another and hustling "rookies". Worm tells Mike that the game is more than just fun for him and reveals he's in debt to the wrong guy. Mike, being the great friend he is, vouches for Worm and tells the collector he's good for the money. The two have five days to win $15,000 or fear the worst. 

Oreo, milk's (and Russia's) favorite cookie. 

The best part of Rounders is the acting. In the fast-talking, gripping world of poker, you need damn good actors to play the part realistically. Matt Damon is terrific as Mike, who's simply a good guy who gets in too deep. He's confident and charismatic, and can keep up with the script and each hand dealt to him. He's the guy you want to root for no matter what situation he finds himself in, and seeing him struggle is harder to watch than it would be with other actors in the role. Of course, Edward Norton plays his anti-hero partner to great effect, playing the down and out dog, practically kicked to death with just enough sleeze to hate but with enough sympathy to cheer for (kind of).  The supporting cast is also superb with Gretchen Mol, Martin Landau, and John Tuturro fleshing out the film. 

Grandpa Landau has a very emotional scene where he talks about being old and awesome. 

Even if you're not a fan of poker (Rounders teaches you how to play almost immediately after it starts), the movie is still fun to watch. Sure, it has it's problems- specifically in the pacing department, and the ending is very predictable, but as an overall film it's worth the time. Poker's a great sport and deserves more attention outside the tables in Vegas. Rounders does it justice. Director John Dahl manages to capture the intensity of the sport to great effect, all with the help of a tremdendous cast. Rounders is the perfect follow-up to Good Will Hunting for the (then) young Matt Damon, and shows early signs that the kid's going to become the star he is today. I would highly recommend the film. 

The Good:
showcasing a sport that doesn't get the attention it deserves, all with a great cast led by Matt Damon
The Bad:
pacing problems that can be easily ignored but still lead you see where the movie's going almost immediately once it gets started
The Ugly:
wondering what it would feel like to lose $15,000 in a single hand of poker and having your entire life pulled out from under you

Overall: 7.6/10


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