Rounders (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"Rounders" are professional card players, and this is the saga of two of them. The lads grew up together as the only two guys to attend a toney private school without their own trust funds, thus learning to equalize the local money supply through card games. When they became adults, one of them learned to play "straight up" as a calculating professional Texas Hold 'Em player, while the other became a "mechanic", a cheat and a sleazeball who can't stand to grind out a living honestly, and is always looking for the dishonest edge and the quick score.

Matt Damon is the card shark, and Edward Norton is the cardsharp.

Damon is a smart guy who has given up poker to go to law school while working a straight job and living with the prettiest girl in Manhattan (Gretchen Mol), but he eventually realizes that he needs to be true to his nature, so he drops out of law school and waves farewell to the babe, and then abandons his crooked friend after bailing out the guy's debts, all to pursue his dream of winning the World Series of Poker.

My youngest son is a dedicated Texas Hold 'Em player who occasionally finishes in the prize money in local tournaments, and he essentially considers this to be the Holy Grail of poker movies, a film that captures the romance of the legitimate game, and also understands card hustling, while taking the trouble to understand the motivations and tactics of the characters, and playing out its story by having the winners succeed with strategically solid play instead of with the usual miraculous cinematic hands where the guy pulls an inside royal flush on the last card.


Two or three background strippers are seen topless.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen, but it is letterboxed, and is not a very good transfer. Would love to see it re-issued.

My entire experience with poker takes place at Christmas with the family, so I didn't think it was any different from any other sporting or gaming movie. It's filled with the usual characters, and the usual plot. It held my attention, and I kept my hand off the fast forward button, but I couldn't really get into it like my son does.

It does feature some exceptionally convincing characterizations from Norton and Damon, so that makes it a good version of the usual sporting movie. It's rated a very solid 7.1 at IMDb, so it's obviously not just for poker fanatics. The ratings do skew young and male, but no demographic group scores it below 6.5, so its appeal is broad.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Superpanel-consensus: three stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.1/10, Yahoo voters call it a B+
  • The box office was an unspectacular $22 million, but the production costs were sensible and the film was probably a moderate financial success.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. The ultimate poker film, a strong "young guy" film, and a watchable flick for anyone, even if one isn't really interested in poker. Good lead characterizations make up for a clichéd plot and the usual gambling stereotypes.

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