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Rounders
BLU-RAY disk
08.29.2011 By: Jason Adams
Rounders order
Director:
John Dahl

Actors:
Matt Damon
Edward Norton
Gretchen Mol

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
After losing big in a high-stakes underground poker game, young card shark Mike turns in his chips for law school textbooks and a new girlfriend. But when his aptly-named friend Worm gets out of jail he soon finds himself tempted to get back in the game.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
For my money, ROUNDERS is one of the most underrated films of the last 20 years. This is a movie that should be quoted, copied and celebrated by everyone, not just poker fans.

Ahead of its time, at least a decade before serious poker would become a mainstream phenomenon, ROUNDERS makes the game seem “cool,” from the strategy to the lingo to the lifestyle. I’m not even a huge poker fan myself, but here each hand comes off exciting, suspenseful and fun, yet the movie also stops short of completely glorifying it. The story is character-based first, with the gameplay coming second, and most of the drama involves the participants dealing with the dark side of gambling. Suffice to say, the stakes are just as high for them away from the table and their lifestyle isn’t exactly glamorous.

Still, the overall tone is loose and stylish (mimicking the jazzy score), the script by David Levien and Brian Koppelman is tight (“You don’t see piranhas eating each other, do you?”) with a wicked sense of humor (“She crossed her legs too fast!”) and the direction and cinematography are spot on. The film is shot like a seedy noir that captures the look of the underground poker culture and the urgency of their not-exactly-legal craft.

But overall, ROUNDERS is built on some remarkable performances from young, hungry actors like Matt Damon and Edward Norton. Damon plays the straight lead man with quiet gusto, holding his own as a character against Norton’s obviously more showy role. Worm is slimy, frustrating and electrifying—a real piece of human garbage that you can’t help but like thanks to Norton. The rest of the cast includes a gloriously overacting John Malkovich (who should get product placement cash from Oreos) as well as quick, effective turns from Martin Landau, John Turturro and Famke Janssen. The only thing lacking is the romantic interest by one-time “it girl” Gretchen Mol, whose blandness takes away from Damon’s character in a disappointing way. It’s a bummer that he has more interesting chemistry with Janssen’s cameo.
THE EXTRAS
The special features here are taken directly from the previous DVD release. Would’ve loved some new, more in-depth material.

Commentary by director John Dahl, writers David Levien and Brian Koppelman, and Edward Norton: Everyone seems proud of ROUNDERS, as they should be, and that definitely comes across here. Plenty of lively discussion and interesting stories shared. Norton comes across pretty funny, in contrast to the “serious actor” persona he’s known for.

Commentary by poker players Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moneymaker, and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson: This might’ve seemed like a good idea in theory, but not so much in execution. The guys definitely know poker, but that doesn’t make them interesting commentators, even Chan who appears in the film.

Behind the Scenes: A five minute standard fluff piece with cast interviews and some BTS footage.

Inside Professional Poker: Another five minute featurette with the cast talking about the game, including Damon and Norton who both participated in the World Series of Poker in preparation for their roles.

Champion Poker Tips: The same professional players from the commentary above give you some helpful hints on how to master the game. A good idea, but the clips are each frustratingly short.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Is ROUNDERS the best poker movie ever made? It’s definitely my favorite. The Blu-Ray has upgraded pictures and sound, but the exact same special features as the previous DVD release. Worth picking up if you don't own it, but probably not worth double dipping unless you’re a huge fan.

Extra Tidbit: Both Damon and Norton played in the 1998 World Series of Poker, with Damon being knocked out by Doyle Brunson.
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2:03PM on 08/29/2011
Great review. This is a must own movie. Its only 10 bucks so its worth the blu ray upgrade if you already have it.
Great review. This is a must own movie. Its only 10 bucks so its worth the blu ray upgrade if you already have it.
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