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Rounders (Collector's Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 07 September 2004

Rounders (Collector's Edition)

MPAA rating: R
starring: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturo, John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol, Martin Landau
film release year: 1998
DVD release year: 2004
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

”Rounders” was just a few years ahead of its time. You need only channel surf for about five minutes at any given time of the day to run across poker or a card game of some kind being shown on TV. From ESPN to The Travel Channel to Game Show Network, poker – Texas Hold 'Em in particular – has seen an unbelievable boom in popularity on television in the past year. Some say this new-found popularity for poker on TV was thanks to the movie “Rounders.” When unknown online tournament player Chris Moneymaker came out of nowhere and won the 2003 World Series of Poker, he stated that the movie “Rounders” inspired him to start playing the game. Other argue the game’s surge in popularity is due to the fact that the Travel Channel began showing the World Poker Tour with hidden cameras that allow the viewers at home to see the "hole cards" that each player is dealt. Either way, it’s booming now and Miramax has capitalized on this by re-releasing a new and improved version of the 1998 film.

The film starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich is fairly well-written, sometimes over-dramatized look into the seedy underbelly of the world of professional card players in the greater New York area. The film begins with Damon taking his entire bankroll of $30,000 to the club of Russian Mafioso boss Teddy KGB for a no-limit game in an attempt to hit a big score and head out to Vegas to enter the world series of Poker. Damon's character Mike McDermott spends more of his time, money and effort being a student of the game of poker and not enough time being a law student. After suffering what is known in the poker world as a "bad beat" at the hands of Teddy (Malkovich), a Russian nicknamed “KGB,” Mike decides to call it quits and goes back to focusing on school and makes money driving a delivery truck. That is, until "Worm" shows up.

Mike's lifelong poker buddy Lester "Worm" Murphy, played brilliantly by Edward Norton, is a fast-talking card shark who has a lot of talent but always opts for the easy money and has gotten himself involved in some illegal activities that landed him a stint in the slammer. While on the inside with nothing but time, Worm works out his trick dealing skills and is able to manipulate the cards like a Las Vegas magician. Worm gets out of jail, only to learn that Mike has given up the life of being a "rounder" for more stable work. It's only a matter of time before Worm convinces Mike to ignore his promises to his girlfriend and his responsibilities to his fellow law school partners. Worm and Mike are back at it again, hitting poker games across the state in an attempt to pony up a bad gambling debt that Worm owned even before he went to jail.

Hijinks ensue and Worm’s crafty ways with cheating at poker land the boys in even more trouble. Ultimately, Mike has to go back into the poker room at Teddy KGB’s for a final showdown. This time it’s his life on the line as Worm has split town and every penny that he still owns will be taken out on Mike via a beating a gun to the head.

The plot winds along fairly predictably and it takes a little knowledge of the game to really understand the finer points of the story, how much debt Worm is actually in and what it takes to win that kind of money. I know poker players who swear by this movie and think its one of the greatest films ever made, but they might not feel the same if it were a high stakes winner-take-all golf match or billiard game that the players settle their score over.

”Rounders” deals with a lot of poker lingo, much of which will pass you by in the first viewing or two. Having a good friend who is an absolute poker junkie, I have seen this film probably about five times at least (although not always from start to finish). It still amazes me how, even going back and watching it again on this special edition, I pick up new terms. What really sets the special edition of “Rounders” apart from the 2001 DVD release is the special commentary by four World Series of Poker champions.

I often wondered, during certain scenes of “Rounders” whether the writers and actors were accurately portraying the world of underground, back-room, high-limit poker. Watching the film along with these poker greats answered many of these questions that I had about the movie and this lifestyle. The pros featured on this disc are Phil Hellmuth Jr,, Johnny Chan, Chris Ferguson and Chris Moneymaker. All have achieved the greatest feat in tournament poker by winning the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em event in Las Vegas at Binion's Horseshoe, but they all have different levels of experience and areas of expertise.

Hellmuth Jr, who is the youngest player to have ever won the big event at the World Series, and who is often known as the biggest brat in the game, is the most outspoken and opinionated of the pros on the commentary track. 2000 champ Ferguson, nicknamed "Jesus" because of his beard and long hair, has a degree in mathematics and game theory; his ability to read players from behind his dark glasses and cowboy hat have made him a feared player. Chan, who makes an appearance in the film, both as an actor and in a clip from his 1988 victory against Eric Seidel, actually won back to back World Series titles and, despite the fear he creates at the table, has a lighthearted style on the commentary track. Last but not least is newcomer Moneymaker, who shot to superstardom with his unlikely victory in the 2003 World Series. He does not have the same level of poker expertise as the rest of the gang on the commentary track, but his name recognition (yes, his real last name is actually Moneymaker) has been good for the game of poker and having him sit in on this commentary track is fully justified.

The comments run from lighthearted joking to heavy technical analysis of the hands that are played in the movie. When there is a hole in the script technically, and there aren’t that many, the four players are quick to jump at it. Chan gets some good-natured ribbing for his cameos in the movie. Quiet Ferguson sinks into the background and doesn’t speak up much, but Hellmuth fills in any lulls and Moneymaker tends to offer the second most info. It must have been nerve-wracking for a young player like Moneymaker to be in a room analyzing a poker movie with such great players, but he does a fine job in his comments.

Ultimately, the rest of the extras are merely okay, including a poker trivia game and a faux card game that is kind of clunky. It’s fun to play once or twice, but it’s nothing that you’ll find yourself overly drawn to. This fun movie is worth seeing even if you have never sat down at a card table. If you are at all interested in being a poker player, you owe it to yourself to get this disc simply for the pro poker player commentary feature alone.

more details
sound format: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
aspect ratio: 2.35:1, Enhanced for 16x9 televisions
special features: Commentary by director John Dahl, screenwriters David Levien & Brian Kopplman and actor Edward Norton; Commentary by Professional Poker Players Phil Helmuth Jr., Chris Ferguson, Johnny Chan and Chris Moneymaker; Behind the Scenes of "Rounders", Set Top Games - How To Play Poker and Texas Hold ‘Em; Tips from Real Poker Champions
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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