I'd heard good things about this little gem of a film, and it lived up to expectations. I'd love to write a full blown review but I've been pressed for time lately and am way behind on my blog stuff! I'd rather put a short post up than nothing at all, so here goes.
Matt Damon plays Mike McDermott, a law student with a gift for playing poker. He's so good that he plays for a living, using his winnings to pay his tuition fees. Until one fateful day when he blows away all his savings on a big game. Some time later, his best friend 'Worm' (Edward Norton) gets out of jail and gets him back in the game, to the disapproval of Mike's girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol). 'Worm' is an impetuous risk taker and winds up getting them in trouble with 'KGB' (John Malkovich), a dangerous mobster with a penchant for high stakes poker.
The movie is essentially a sports / follow your calling movie featuring poker. And it's terrific. Unlike most 'sports' movies, the fact that it features poker lends it a novelty factor that alone sets it apart from the rest of the crowd. It's unique, but putting that aside it's simply a very well made and entertaining film that manages to draw the viewer in to this strange world and make a bunch of people playing cards seem like the most exciting of events. It features a personal journey of self discovery, a story of friendship, a touch of romance, a quest, and a hefty dose of danger, and it is fascinating and compelling from start to finish. Damon and Norton are exceptional and despite the vast differences in their personalities their friendship is never anything less than convincing. Damon in particular really carries the movie as the level headed but ambitious Mike, who knows deep down that he's a virtuoso. Malkovich is excellent and menacing as KGB. The rest of the cast are also uniformly great, including Martin Landau, Famke Janssen, and John Turturro.
Since I actually understand (to a limited degree) and have played a bit of poker (and lost money consistently), I guess the poker scenes resonated with me more than they otherwise might have. Still, you don't need to really understand poker to follow what's going on, the tension is all there on the screen. Entertaining, exciting, and funny, Rounders is a an absolute blast!