17 June 2005


Rounders Still
First effort at a film review here goes.

Rounders is a character based movie set around moody poker dens run by nouveaux Soviet gangsters in 1990's New York. Originally released in 1998 it stars some of the best known faces about the Hills - Matt Damon, Ed Norton and John Malcovich. Playing the sophisticated law student, Gretchen Mol does a great job as Damon's straight-laced female foil.

Mike (Damon) finds himself spotting a huge gambling debt for his recently released friend Worm (Norton) - "I know all the reasons I shouldn't be here, but sometimes reasons don't matter, but no one's ever stood up for Worm". This is poker movie, you can guess the rest, right? It's Hollywood after all? Mike will play for his friend, Texas hold'em no limits and win the money and the girl.

Well, no actually. What is so good here is that it centres around the relationships of its protagonists. This is a character driven movie, not one where the writing gets hauled around behind the plot. There's some great tension in this film wound up by real depth in quality characters that don't get seen enough these days. In particular John Turturro plays something deviously close to Al Pacino's Carlito Brigante in Carlito's Way. He's only a peripheral player at most, but has a great presence as a seasoned grinder who does what he needs but without the ambition other than to grow old. Turturro is the voice of reason, for Mike, telling him to forget his friend and his debt. You can't help feel for Joey when Mike slashes out, echoing Worm's snide aside that Joey doesn’t have the balls for the big game.

Malcovich is supreme as the nouveaux riche Russian head honcho of an underground poker palace. I didn't even recognise the lad until his final few screen minutes. And what a wardrobe! Norton as Worm is superbly greasy and Gretchen Mol is temptation herself. Which left me with a few questions towards the end. That said, Damon never manages to shake off an axiomatic metaphorical theme: life as a (poker) game. He later asks of Mol "Why does this still seem like gambling to you? It's a skill game". By now, he's all in, life and all and he is literally playing by the seat of his pants, for the seat of his pants. To borrow an americanism.

But if poker is a turn off, don't fret. As I've pointed out, Rounders is much more about relationships than poker. There is some action on the green baize, and as you'd expect there is a grand finale of sorts. But there's far more revealing things done and said without the poker.

Recommended on video / DVD / etc.


Blogger bristle-krs said...

Nice review!

I think you've cornered some of the strong points of the movie - something of an underappreciated gem that it is.

A few other gambling/con pictures worth investigating:

'The Grifters'
'House Of Games'
'The Sting'

12:00 AM  

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