Rounders, a depressing drama about high stakes poker, stars Matt Damon as a young law student whose addiction to poker could cause him the loss of his beautiful girlfriend (Gretchen Moll) as well as his future in the legal field. Struggling to stay away from underground games after a major defeat, Damon’s character is drawn back in by his outrageous best friend Worm, played by Edward Norton. Worm needs help in paying gambling debts, so he turns to Damon, a budding poker genius. Because of Worm’s destructive behavior, nothing goes right for this card-playing duo.
Will the appealing Damon finally prevail in spite of overwhelming odds? If so, that might give viewers a fleeting sense of satisfaction. Fleeting, because upon reflection, the story seems quite unbelievable, especially when Damon receives a large amount of money from a most improbable source. In addition, we must watch this man put up with his worst nightmare of a buddy way beyond the bounds of rationality.
And what is the film’s message? Something about following your dream and paying attention to your passion and talent, no matter what the cost. How many heartaches have been caused by that type of unsophisticated guidance? That said, there is still one very good reason to see Rounders -- it involves Norton’s fascinating portrayal of a manipulative ex-con without an ounce of self-control. Although his edgy mannerisms may make viewers nervous, Norton delivers another scene-stealing performance here, one proving that his Oscar nomination for Primal Fear was no fluke.
Avid poker players might enjoy this movie. No doubt they would understand terminology that comes across like a foreign language to others. They might also appreciate the slow-moving card game sequences. However, putting all my cards on the table, I found Rounders too dark and violent -- and with too little humor to balance out its heavy drama. But I did learn how much more fun playing poker can be than sitting through a movie about it.
(Released by Miramax Films and rated “R” for pervasive strong language, some sexuality and brief drug use.)
For more information about Rounders, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.