Rounders came out in 1998 and showcased the rising popularity of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker in a very interesting and entertaining story. I have gone back to watch this film several times over the years. The story is interesting and well done, and the acting is top of the line… with maybe one accent being the exception.
What’s It About?
Rounders follows our lead character Mike (Matt Damon), who is a very mathematical and thoughtful poker player, a true savant. He loses all his money taking a shot at one of the seediest poker clubs in town, and as the movie gets going he has promised his girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol) he will never play poker again. Mike’s best friend is Lester “Worm” Murphy (Edward Norton) gets out of prison and unlike Mike, he will do anything to win, including cheating. Worm owes a lot of money and therefore is always looking for angles to win at poker games, and wants Mike to help him. This eventually leads to turmoil between Mike and Jo, but also leads to Worm putting Mike in debt so Mike has really no choice but to get back into the game.
Mike was studying to be a lawyer, but due to the debt he has now incurred, he sets that aside to once again become a poker player. Worm had his debt bought up by a former ’employee’ and the owner of the Poker Club Mike lost all his money at. The owner is a high ranking member of the Russian Mob and goes by the name of Teddy KGB (John Malkovich).
After Jo takes all of their furniture and leaves Mike, Worm finally convinces Mike to not only get back into playing poker again, but also to help him. Mike gets put on the hook for the money Worm owes as well, but wants to play the games straight up, none of Worm’s cheating tactics. Things go great for a while, but Worm gets into one of the games and really messes things up. This leads to the two of them getting beat up, and all the money they built up, stolen.
After that beat down, Worm reveals to Mike for the first time that it is more than just one person they owe the money to. Once Mike knows he owes money to Teddy KGB, he basically ends his friendship with Worm and hopes to get some grace on the debt. With no grace given, he has less than 24 hours to accumulate $15,000.
Who’s In It?
The cast is absolutely fantastic, especially when you consider what some of them go on to do. Starring Matt Damon, before he was robbing casinos in Ocean’s Eleven or kicking ass and finding out his name in The Bourne Identity. Joining him is future Fight Club and Incredible Hulk star, Edward Norton, who compliments Matt in the best way possible. Joining these two amazing stars are some really wonderful supporting actors. These actors include Gretchen Mol as Jo, John Malkovich as Teddy KGB, Martin Landau as Professor Abe Petrovsky, Famke Janssen as Petra and John Turturro as Joey Knish. There was also a cameo appearance by professional poker player Johnny Chan, who won the World Series of Poker in back-to-back years in 1987 and 1988.
These days an ensemble cast is truly hit or miss, but every now and then you just find that right combination of actors who compliment each other so well. Rounders was able to pull together a wonderful group of up and coming actors and mix in some really great veterans. Director John Dahl was able to get truly the best out of each and every one, with perhaps one exception. John Malkovich is truly a brilliant actor, but his Russian accent wasn’t the best. To be fair, it was better than Sean Connery who never even attempted an accent in Red October, but it still wasn’t the best.
I know people who don’t know anything about poker who have really enjoyed watching Rounders. If you enjoyed the film, here are a few more films you may want to check out. First up is The Cooler starring William H. Macy as a man who is hired by casino’s to break players lucky streaks. The next recommendation I have is a bit older, but The Cincinnati Kid starring Steve McQueen as a five card stud player with more precision than any of the gunslingers in The Magnificent Seven (both of them). The final recommendation I have for you is Casino starring Robert De Niro and directed by Martin Scorsese which has the wonderful quote “The cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back”.
I have seen Rounders on many occasions, and each time I enjoy every minute of it. The story, the acting and the poker playing is all very entertaining. Throughout the movie, Matt Damon as Mike, narrates the ins and outs of poker, what’s going on and gives information you may need. Since 1998, when the film was released, the World Series of Poker went from having a million dollar top prize to well over eight million. In 2006, the top prize was 12 million which has been the peak, but in 2014 reached 10 million again. This film, combined with internet poker sensation Chris Moneymaker winning the 2003 WSOP, revolutionized poker.