xtcian

Movie Reviews

HOME

MOVIE REVIEWS

Rounders Internet Movie Database Logo

Director: John Dahl
Cast:
Matt Damon
Edward Norton
John Turturro
John Malkovich
Martin Landau

Like all movies about singular pastimes with singular rules, you sorta hafta like the pastime in order to like the movie. Personally, I've been a card fanatic ever since I was able to hold a pack of Hoyles, so I was genetically predisposed to like "Rounders," which is as much about the game of poker as it is about our hero.

Matt Damon is an ex-card shark who hands in his spades for law books; goaded by girlfriend Gretchen Mol, he is on the fast track to becoming a lawyer, especially after a devastating poker loss at the hands of a ruthless Russian mobster played with expected glee by John Malkovich. Of course, a dancer is supposed to dance, and when old scam partner Ed Norton is released from prison, Damon is back on the card circuit, trying to keep his friend from being killed by unhappy creditors.

Breathlessly paced and featuring a true actor in Damon, "Rounders" is at its best when the movie itself plays poker; not giving away too many of its secrets, and delving deep into the peculiar psyche of those folks willing to play cards for fortnights on end. The movie doesn't do well when it gives its intentions away; Gretchen Mol is utterly wasted here, given a role so thin and shrill that its a wonder she's managed to get so much mileage out of it. Even Ed Norton is casually dismissed by movie's end, and the final epitaph is a bit of a groaner.

But when its running on all cylinders, "Rounders" is satisfying confectionery. If you like to play cards, and get as worked up about it as my Mormon Like all movies about singular pastimes with singular rules, you sorta hafta like the pastime in order to like the movie. Personally, I've been a card fanatic ever since I was able to hold a pack of Hoyles, so I was genetically predisposed to like "Rounders," which is as much about the game of poker as it is about our hero.

Matt Damon is an ex-card shark who hands in his spades for law books; goaded by girlfriend Gretchen Mol, he is on the fast track to becoming a lawyer, especially after a devastating poker loss at the hands of a ruthless Russian mobster played with expected glee by John Malkovich. Of course, a dancer is supposed to dance, and when old scam partner Ed Norton is released from prison, Damon is back on the card circuit, trying to keep his friend from being killed by unhappy creditors. Breathlessly paced and featuring a true actor in Damon, "Rounders" is at its best when the movie itself plays poker; not giving away too many of its secrets, and delving deep into the peculiar psyche of those folks willing to play cards for fortnights on end. The movie doesn't do well when it gives its intentions away; Gretchen Mol is utterly wasted here, given a role so thin and shrill that it's a wonder she's managed to get so much mileage out of it. Even Ed Norton is casually dismissed by movie's end, and the final epitaph is a bit of a groaner.

But when its running on all cylinders, "Rounders" is satisfying confectionery. If you like to play cards, and get as worked up about it as my Mormon cousins do, it offers the kind of emotional payoff not seen in ham-and-eggers like "Maverick" or "The Gambler." Ante up and have a good time.

—Ian Williams

Return to Ian's movie reviews.


© Copyright 2002 Ian Williams