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Friday, February 03, 2006 

O & U #3

Rounders, 1998, dir: John Dahl

Plot: Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) a recently retired 'rounder' -someone who makes their living playing cards- comes a cropper when his one-time poker buddy 'Worm' (Edward Norton) is released from jail and is chased down by an insane Russian mob boss by the name of Teddy KGB (John Malkovich).

Why I like it: Rounders is consistently branded with the underrated stamp and is probably one of the classic examples of entertaining filmmaking slipping beneath the radar. So let's get it out of the way. The film itself isn't particularly original -from riches to rags to riches again- but takes conventional subject matter (dreary romanticism) and sets it against the backdrop of career gambling. While the film isn't nearly as hip as it wishes to be, it's still a plumb clambake for two hours, even if there's a little flab around the edges.

Matt Damon is essentially modifying his Will Hunting model with less of the schtick -not that there's anything wrong with that- and transplanting it onto another misguided but supremely talented youth, only this time with a knack for playing poker. It's a noble effort from Damon and he only really struggles with the badly-written 'serious' scenes with Gretchen Mol as the love interest. Rounders operates best when under the guise of a mainstream movie going indie: bereft of law school hindrances but rife with a 90s sensibility. The movie's success must largely lie with Ed Norton, though, who slides onto the screen and off again with an unglamourous and selfless vigour.

Rounders works because it's not about poker but totally about poker, relying on the construction of the screenplay and some fine supporting performances to elevate it to another level. Thinking of the latter we've got our fair share: Famke Janssen, John Turturro, Matin Landau, and a delightfully accented and unhinged John Malkovich who not plays with Oreos but lends a much-needed edge to the picture. Ultimately, Rounders has honest intentions and they all pay dividends from Dahl's rich yet introspective direction to its disarmingly abrupt ending there's much to hold dear, and if the much-mooted TV series finally comes to fruition; I know I'll be watching.

See if you liked: Reality Bites, The Cincinnati Kid, Beautiful Girls

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