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Reviews & Ratings for
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story More at IMDbPro »Stuey (original title)

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20 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

A Sobering Look at Gambling

Author: lavatch from Twin Cities, Minnesota
11 February 2005

This film appeared on cable television under the title of "High Roller." It is a well-crafted biographical portrait of three-time world champion poker player Stu Ungar. In life, Stu's nickname was "The Kid," and the film chronicles the descent of an intelligent young man with great promise, who becomes addicted to gambling and ruins all of that potential. As Stu, Michael Imperioli delivers an engaging and credible performance, capturing the essence of a life spiraling out of control from the craving of high-stakes gambling. The cast surrounding Imperioli is excellent, especially veteran actor Pat Morita, who plays a Las Vegas gambling impresario. The film's production values fall somewhere between a competent made-for-television movie and a workmanlike low-budget feature film, attempting valiantly to convey the period styles of the final four decades of the twentieth century. There is one revealing scene with documentary footage of the classic Las Vegas Sands Hotel being imploded and crashing to the ground. That moment vividly sums up of the sad life of Stu Ungar.

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17 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Recognize yourself?

8/10
Author: filmflam-1 from United States
17 May 2005

What is it about certain films that generates such polar opposite reactions?

Some people here have called High Roller "disgusting." Some have called it "extraordinary" (as would I, actually).

Why? I think it's because films like this don't make heroes out of jerks, or glamour out of degeneration, and some people just can't deal with that emotionally. They NEED a hero. And I'd also add that if they're gamblers or poker players, they might feel personally betrayed when their existence isn't justified.

High Roller in NOT a poker movie. It's a PEOPLE movie. It's not perfect, but it looks good, is well-written, and wonderfully acted. And best of all, it generates an emotional response and inspires reflection.

And maybe that's what makes some people so damn mad.

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16 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

play me in gardena

1/10
Author: kawalsky from United States
11 April 2005

An insult to both poker and cinema, this movie manages to make the most dynamic, brilliant, and fascinating figure in poker history into an utter bore. Still a fun film to make jokes about, from the lame gangster movie clichés of the first half to the incomprehensible nonsense of that second hour. Hilariously, Stu Ungar wins all three of his World Series titles without playing a single hand on screen. His infamous dealer abuse? 1 scene. His coke habit? 1 scene. His incredible memory? 0 scenes. They couldn't even get any real poker players. What did they cover? A lot of high angle shots from inside a house in the suburbs. Oh, and a montage of Stu waking up every day and shopping for meat which doesn't come anywhere close to making sense. Why do I care so much about this little Sopranos summer camp trying to cash in on the poker craze? Because I think there's still a great film to be made about Stu Ungar waiting for someone willing to do it right.

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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Interesting background on legend.

7/10
Author: Trane Video from United States
30 May 2005

This movie was well acted and kept my interest in the main character for the entire movie. Stu Unger lived an extraordinary life. Imagine if Stu were alive today! This movie paints a picture of what Stu Unger's life might have felt like. It was interesting to see how connected was growing up. I would have liked to seen more detail on Stu's partying, his gamesmanship and his relationship to Bob Stupak. But all in all, this movie was well done, well acted and the story touched on many facets of a life that was full of many events that were larger than life.

This movie is worth renting.

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13 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

a tale so extraordinary you have to see it to believe it

8/10
Author: eric brousseau (emineric@hotmail.com) from new england
31 January 2005

stuey unger was a card playing legend. he was quoted in an interview as saying, "Some day, I suppose it's possible for someone to be a better No Limit Hold'em player than me. I doubt it, but it could happen. But, I swear to you, I don't see how anyone could ever play gin better than me." there's a gin rummy scene in this movie that is so amazing you could have plopped it in 'X-Men' as a showcase for a superhero's mutant power. that's how incredible this man was.

i have a few minor problems with this movie. as dark as this movie was, stuey's real life was darker. poker pro todd brunson said, "During the last World Series of poker, Bob Stupak, Mike Sexton and I had a drink and talked about Stu. Mike told us how he could barely talk, hadn't showered in weeks and how his fingers were burned black by a crack pipe." in the film, michael imperioli looked far too healthy to be stu unger in the final years of his life. when stuey won his last wsop he looked like a skeleton, but let's face it, this production lacked both the time and the "deniro" to make that kind of transformation. my other problem was that i wish there was more poker playing, with actual hands and situations. sure it might have bored the average non poker enthusiast, but it would have been nice for the hardcores. too bad the movie wasn't 6 hours or so longer.

i watched the movie with 3 non poker players and they all thoroughly enjoyed it. just like you don't have to be a former member of the colonial army to enjoy Gibson's "the patriot", you don't have to be a poker player to see this gem. can't wait for the DVD. (8 out of 10)

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Average movie and nothing like his life.

4/10
Author: jtdeible-1 from United States
31 August 2006

Well, the movie was no terrible, but whomever created the screen play did not do a good job of even creating the essence of unger. This movie was slightly below average and did not tell the story correctly on one of the most interesting persons ever born. I suggest reading the book "one of a Kind" the real unger story. They left out huge parts of his life. They also at times did not understand the real caractor that he was. The actual facts of his life were at times out of order. And in the end they really did not portray the actual personality that he did have. So please don't watch the movie; read the book. By the way I'm not just some prick who feels you have to stay 100% to the real story, but they did not even come close!!!

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

One of the great Poker tragedies

4/10
Author: harvard_guy from Australia
25 September 2006

Wow, i just witnessed one of the greatest poker tragedies and I'm not talking about the premature death of the great stu ungar. This film I'm sorry to say was terrible. Absolutely terrible. A true tragedy in filmaking history. Well maybe I'm being a little harsh but unless you have some interest in the life of stu ungar then don't even consider coming near this one. And those that do have an interest in his life will find that most parts were trivialised and made out to be great novelty scenes. I watched it because of Stu UNgar but nearly wanted to end myself like he did while watching this movie 4 stars for effort but unpleasantly painful

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Not terrible, but probably not worth your time

5/10
Author: bandw from Boulder, CO
12 July 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You would have thought that this biographical film about Stu Unger (one of the greatest card players ever) had great dramatic potential, but this movie turns out to be a most undramatic undertaking. The plot device is to have Unger sit on a bed in some fleabag motel room and tell his story to a "mysterious stranger." The story is told in linear flashbacks inter-cut with *much* talk in the motel room. I always get suspicious when a screenwriter has a character talk about himself rather than being able to formulate a scene to more effectively make the point, or at least have the character talking within the context of a scene rather than talking about a scene.

This is a movie about a person and his profession. We get a lot of stuff about the person - teased kid, difficult father, marriage, child, divorce, drugs - but not much about the profession. As presented this is the life's arc of a not atypical contemporary American and it is not all that interesting. The focus should not be on why this guy was ordinary but rather why he was extraordinary. This is like offering a biography of Einstein but never drawing us in with an understanding of his professional accomplishments and his genius.

Many opportunities are missed to provide some excitement, tension, and interest. At least some intense build-up should have been given to Unger's winning his first World Series of Poker, climaxed with his going head-to-head with poker legend Doyle Brunson. That scene was disappointingly uninspired. My god, how could they flub that so badly?

A political party will play to its base and why this movie failed so miserably to play to its base of poker players is a mystery. Maybe it did not want to glorify gambling, and it does not, but using Unger as a poster boy for the evils of gambling is misguided - he was such an unusual person that drawing any general conclusions is questionable. In any case most drug addicts will not fare well at the tables and the fact that Unger could come back to win the WSOP in 1997 is an amazing feat. It has always puzzled me why passionate professional gamblers are considered addicts and cast in a negative light, but those who pursue other professions to the exclusion of most all else are accorded esteem.

Some have honored this film for not sugarcoating Ungar's slide toward addiction and death. But from reading about Ungar's life it sounds like his womanizing, surly behavior, and drug use were much worse than portrayed. In fact I got more from reading the wikipedia entry on Ungar than I did from this film, so go there if you want to save yourself some time.

Never having seen "The Sopranos" I had never seen any of these actors before and my reaction was, "not bad, but not great."

If you want to see a much more perceptive character study of a gambler, see Philip Seymore Hoffman in the under-appreciated "Owning Mahoney."

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

In a word: dreadful

2/10
Author: Johnny Del Bravo from Canada
2 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Having just finished reading the book "One of a Kind" a week ago, I was thinking "This would make a great movie, especially now, when people know a little about poker and poker players". I was totally shocked to find it while browsing at the video store last night. I had no idea someone had actually turned this into a film. I grabbed it immediately and watched with much anticipation. What a major letdown!

All of the intriguing things about Stu Ungar were skimmed over quickly, and instead I was left with a biopic that could have been about anybody. Ungar may have been a burnt-out jerk, but he was also a brilliant thinker that could read people instinctively. That is what made him so fascinating. Why not focus on that?

And talk about watering down the real truth. This guy was excessive about absolutely everything: drugs, women, gambling, starvation, sleep-deprivation. He gambled on sporting events from dusk to dawn, he would go missing for days while hanging out in crack dens, his body was perpetually emaciated, and yet, if he ever needed money, he could always beat just about anyone at will playing cards. Now that's a story!

Too much time spent on his childhood and personal relationships (although his ties with "Vincent" and his daughter were hardly touched on) and hardly anything about his drugs use (which was exorbitant), his insane gambling and his incredible card-playing abilities.

Probably too late now, but I hope someone remakes this film properly. I had no problem with Imperioli. He is excellent. The script just left him with nothing interesting to say.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

great poker player, terrible addict, horrible movie

1/10
Author: kidderek from United States
23 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is a shameful result of what happens when:

A) It is written, directed and produced by an idiot. and/or B) It was rushed in production to satiate the poker/Stu Ungar craze.

The story from beginning is uneven. Vidmer spends too much time on Ungar's childhood and not enough on some of the legendary tales -- such as counting cards, his blackjack escapades, the roll of money as id. He also leaves out mentions of other poker greats such as chip reese, brunson etc. The movie is a complete mess from beginning to end.

If you want a more complete and accurate account, read the book One of a Kind. If you thought the movie was good, read the book and change your mind.

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