Film Review: Rounders – 9/10

In the poker game of life, women are the rake…’

Everyone has that one friend. That one fucking friend that is trouble. That one goddamn friend that you just can’t quit. The kind of friend that makes your wife or girlfriend roll their eyes at the mere mention of their name. In Rounders, that friend is named Worm and he’s played magnificently by Edward Norton…

Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is an ex-gambler, an aspiring lawyer in a seemingly happy relationship with his fellow law student Jo (Gretchen Mol). All of that is smashed to smithereens when his old friend Worm (Norton) gets out of prison and persuades him to return to the poker table.

Some of my happiest memories involve being sat around a poker table. For me, it was never about winning or losing (which is handy because I hardly ever won). It was about the romance of the game itself. The music. The beers. The good times. “Rolled up aces over kings” as Worm himself puts it. Well, Rounders is the film that originally turned me on to Texas hold ’em, and it remains a timeless classic and one of the most underrated films of the ’90s.

Damon and Norton make for an incredible double act. Worm is a piece of shit. He’s a self-sabotaging asshole who doesn’t know when to quit. And yet, Norton somehow makes the character likeable in a roguish kind of way. Damon is the real star here though, along with David Levien and Brian Koppelman’s sterling script and John Dahl’s assured direction. Much is made of John Malkovich’s dodgy Russian accent as big bad Teddy KGB, but that is to do a disservice to the otherwise stellar supporting cast. Martin Landau is exceptional as Mike’s law professor Abe Petrovsky, as is John Turturro as veteran poker player Joey Knish. This is a true collaboration with a truckload of talent, and it’s a genuine mystery why it isn’t held in the same regard as other ’90s classics such as Fight Club or The Shawshank Redemption.

Bottom line? I love this movie. And if you’ve ever felt the rush of catching a flush on the river then you’ll love it too. An underrated gem. Deal me in.