- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
n the late 90s, Miramax earned a reputation for taking chances on a number of great films, but they never achieved much at the box office. A majority of these movies went on to become cult classics on video and earned the Weinstein brothers a lot of money and respect in the process. One of these films was the John Dahl drama "Rounders," which not only featured a fantastic cast of talented up-and-comers and screen veterans, but also helped in launching the poker craze that's sweeping the nation today.
"Rounders" offers an inside look at the world of high-stakes gambling through the eyes of Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), a New York City law student with a natural talent for a good hand and the ability to read virtually any opponent. After dropping $30,000 one night to local poker thug Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), Mike turns away from the game forever to focus on his studies, much to the approval of his girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol). Working a dead-end job to pay off his school loans, Mike remains clean for nine months until his best friend Worm (Edward Norton) is released from prison with a giant gambling debt to his name. When Mike takes a stake in the debt, putting his own head on the chopping block, he must return to the card table and play the game better than he ever has before in order to meet Teddy KGB's 48-hour payment deadline.
"Rounders" is without a doubt one of the best poker films ever made, but it's also a really great movie about brotherhood. Though Norton's foolish Worm is nothing but trouble from the minute he's introduced, there's a reason why such an upstanding guy like Mike is still hanging around with a cheating lowlife: friendship. They have a history that goes all the way back to high school, where Worm took the heat for a poker game gone wrong so that Mike's promising future wouldn't be ruined. His debt to Worm is worth more than just money, and playing poker is Mike's way of finally paying him back.
Most women will never fully understand this kind of unspoken act of brotherhood, just like most men will never understand "Sex and the City," but it's because of these rich and complex relationships that "Rounders" is such an enjoyable movie. Matt Damon, Edward Norton and a gleefully over-the-top John Malkovich deliver solid performances, while David Levin and Brian Koppelman's smart and stylish script does a great job of bringing an authenticity to the poker scenes without alienating those who've never played a game of Texas hold 'em. "Rounders" is a classic buddy film in the same vein as "Swingers" and "Sideways," and one that deserves a place in every guy's collection.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Walt Disney's Blu-ray release of "Rounders" features a majority of the bonus material from the previous DVD release, including a pair of audio commentaries, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a brief look at the world of professional poker, and tips from past World Series of Poker champions. The two commentary tracks are the best of the bunch, including one with director John Dahl, actor Edward Norton and writers David Lean and Brian Koppelman, and another with four of the most popular poker pros in the business: Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Chris "Jesus" Ferguso and Chris Moneymaker.