Review Date:
Director: John Dahl
Writer: David Levien, Brian Koppelman
Producers: Ted Demme, Joel Stillerman
Matt Damon as Mike
Edward Norton as Worm
Gretchen Mol as Jo
John Malkovich as Teddy KGB
Poker junkie Mike (Damon) finally goes straight after losing $30,000 in a life-changing poker match. Soon thereafter, he concentrates on law school with his straight-as-an-arrow girlfriend, and tries to avoid all card-game temptations. That is, until his good friend Worm (Norton) gets out of prison, runs into some major gambling debts, and morally challenges Mike into returning to his good old days of “rounding”.
Entertaining, believable, if slightly repetitive, behind the scenes look at the high-stakes game of New York underground poker through the eyes of one fresh-faced kid with a dream (surprise, it’s Matt Damon!), and his brother-like friend, Worm, whose integrity for the game is essentially non-existent. This movie was never boring for me, was filmed in just the right amount of time, and did maintain an extreme air of authenticity throughout. Then again, I’m no card shark, so I would have no idea if even half the jargon used in the film was real anyway (“We might have to raise the juice on those rounders”. Huh?)

The acting was uneven with Norton delivering another great performance with his sleazy rendition of the morally-bankrupt Worm, while Damon, well, played Matt Damon pretty well. John Turtorro’s character seemed highly underdeveloped (seems like some scenes with him might’ve been cut out), as well as Gretchen Mol’s standard girlfriend repartee (no “Standing by your man” for this woman!), which didn’t add much to the story. John Malkovich also went over the top and came back, with his highly carucaturized rendition of a Russian card player. The mood and soundtrack of the film was nicely set by Dahl, while the obligatory girlfriend sub-plot line just reminded me of the sour romance plot-line in DONNIE BRASCO (8/10) from 1997 (in which Gretchen Mol also appeared as Sonny’s (Michael Madsen) girlfriend.)

Having said that, the film did manage to show us everything you ever wanted to know about the game of poker and more (I don’t remember seeing a better poker movie in my life, but then again, I don’t remember seeing many poker movies in my life.), and a greater insight into the mind of an addict (Any type of addict, if you really think about it.) and the price one could pay for extreme loyalty. I would recommend this film to all those who love the game of poker, and are interested in exploring the life themes of addiction and loyalty. Other than that, the film offers little else in the romance and/or suspense factors, so if that’s what you’re interested in, forget this puppy and go rent yourself another great Dahl movie: THE LAST SEDUCTION with an Oscar-worthy performance by Linda Fiorentino as the cold, manipulative sex-pot with a plan. Either way, you’re going to have an interesting evening.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian