John Dahl directed this exploration of New York private clubs devoted to high-stakes poker, with first-person narration from the film's central figure, law student Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), who loses his entire savings to Russian club owner Teddy KGB (John Malkovich). Mike then turns away from cards, devoting his attentions to his law studies and his live-in girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol), who's concerned when Mike's former gambling buddy Worm (Edward Norton) is released from prison. She has good reason to worry, since it takes Worm only a matter of minutes to draw Mike back into poker action. When she learns Mike has returned to the poker clubs, she moves out, and Mike begins to lose interest in his studies. Worm has a prison debt, and the threatening Grama (Michael Rispoli) wants the money. Mike not only indulges the irresponsible Worm, he gets involved in Worm's debts. When Grama demands $15,000 on a five-day deadline, the two buddies go into high gear with a non-stop, no-sleep ...
Very underrated character piece, although not without its flaws
"Rounders" is about a straight-flying legal student (Matt Damon) who leaves behind his gambling habits to satisfy his moralistic girlfriend. However when his best friend "Worm" (Edward Norton) is released from jail, the two embark on a cards-journey that leads them from success to misfortune after Worm is caught cheating and the man who caught him (John Malkovich) wants his money back.
Whereas Ben Affleck continues to go downhill after "Good Will Hunting," Matt Damon has striven uphill, taking on daring productions such as "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "The Bourne Identity" series, and of course "Rounders," which features one of his best performances. Damon has become typecast as some sort of bad actor in the league of Affleck, but he's much better than his pal, and films like this prove it.
Norton is once again superb as one of his characters you love to hate. He's got the character of Worm down pat, and it really elevates the acting (along with Damon) to a level of greatness.
The film is directed and written very well, offering realistic dialog and gritty environments. However the flaws of the movie are its long running time (two hours exactly), which could have been shortened, and probably the fact that its card playing is sometimes a bit alienating to the audience.
That said, this is still a very underrated movie featuring outstanding performances and a unique spin on gambling flicks. Worth watching at least once in a lifetime.
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