Rounders (1998) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for pervasive strong language, some sexuality and brief drug use
Running Time: 121 min.

Cast: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturro, John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol
Director:  John Dahl
Screenplay: David Levien, Brian Koppelman

Review published July 14, 1999

A young law student (Damon, Saving Private Ryan) spends many an evening playing high-stakes poker because he's one of the best. He meets his match one day in the form of a Russian gangster (Malkovich, The Man in the Iron Mask) and blows his entire savings on what he felt was a sure thing and retires from the game, which pleases his girlfriend (Mol, The Thirteenth Floor). When one of his friends is released from prison (Norton, Everyone Says I Love You), he feels compelled to help him because he owes the Russian mobster $25,000 and has only a week to get it to him. Together they proceed to try to win the money they need to pay him off, but they find things are easier said than done.

Quietly director John Dahl (The Last Seduction, Red Rock West) is putting together a fine career. Credit Jean-Yves Escoffier (Good Will Hunting) for the beautiful cinematography of a film that is mostly indoors; it looks stunning. Matt Damon is such a natural actor, reminiscent of the easy but subtly intense style Denzel Washington is known for, and the rest of the cast chips in with solid performances throughout. Some may be put off due to the subject matter (i.e. it's pretty much a string of poker games with some dramatic interludes), but it's actually quite fascinating and smart entertainment.

Qwipster's rating:

1999 Vince Leo