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Poker Movie Review: Rounders

Poker Movie Review: Rounders
by Chad Holloway of

In 1998, a film, titled Rounders, was released by Miramax films that changed the face of poker forever. The film stars Matt Damon as Mike, a former poker player turned law school student, and his former poker partner Worm, played by Edward Norton. The film focuses on Worm's release from prison and his attempt to lure Mike into playing poker once again. Eventually, Worm manages to gets him to play, and Mike becomes hooked on the excitement and thrill of gambling. This leads Mike on a poker spree in an attempt to win enough to erase Worm's debt he had carried over from before prison; however, Mike encounters difficulty which impacts his studies, friendships, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Jo, played by the lovely Gretchen Mol. The film comes to a climax when Mike faces off against Teddy KGB, eloquently played my John Malkovich, the man who had administered the bad beat that caused Mike to give up poker in the first place. The cast is rounded out by dedicated performances from Famke Janssen, John Turturro, and Martin Landau in their supporting roles.

Before Rounders, No Limit Texas Hold'em was a relatively unknown game to the American public. Most people had been exposed to five-card draw or seven-card stud in their home games, but the producers of the film made a commitment to use the game that was considered "the Cadillac of poker" and was being played by the best of the best at the World Series of Poker. Granted, No Limit Texas Hold'em had existed for many years before Rounders, but the movie certainly helped bring it into the American spotlight. The film earned a modest $22,905,674 in box office revenues, but it wasn't until 2003 that the film earned cult status among the poker playing world. It was that year that the poker boom occurred and want-to-be poker players flocked to anything poker related, including the Rounders DVD. This turned Johnny Chan and Erick Seidel, the only two real-life professional poker players to appear in the film, into overnight celebrities. The film also had the reverse affect by turning Damon and Norton into celebrities in the poker field; in fact, both were invited and played in the 1998 World Series of Poker Main event and mingled with many of poker's superstars.

The film's great story and interesting characters can be appreciated by a non-poker playing audience, but the film is an absolutely must see for any poker player. The film captures the intensity of Texas Hold'em, including the thrills of victory, the agony of defeat, and the pressure that comes with the huge swings.

Furthermore, the producers did an excellent job of showing realistic poker situations (I.e. the big poker hand in the film is a full house versus a flush, not the odds-defying four aces versus a royal flush often favored by other poker films) which the viewers can relate to, likely because they have actually been involved in a similar hand. With a superb cast, a well-developed story, and interesting subject, Rounders is a great film and easily among the most influential poker films of all-time. Rounders has a running time of two hours and is rated R for pervasive strong language, some sexuality and brief drug use.



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