Often Hollywood struggles to replicate reality, no matter how much money or CGI they throw at a project, and when it comes to movies that deal with sports, the percentage of movies that really hit the spot is even lower.
There are occasions when the big screen takes on tales that cover the world of gambling, and to be honest, there are some solid examples of great filmmaking in this genre. The likes of The Sting, the Color of Money, and Martin Scorcese Epic Casino all do a great job, but these movies are perhaps less about the act of gambling or playing a specific form of the game where money is on the line and more about the environment that these events take place in.
Now one movie that, to our mind, really does the world of gambling, and more specifically poker, a great service then it’s Rounders. Arguably it’s a film that will have turned on many to poker, and its release was swiftly followed by a large uptake when it comes to live online poker, which has, of course, become huge in the intervening years.
Rounders follows the travails of small-time poker player Mike McDermott, played superbly by Matt Damon just less than a year after he’d have his smash-hit success in Good Will Hunting, the movie that earned him his first and, to date, only Academy Award (he won for Best Original Screenplay with Ben Affleck).
It charts his ups and downs in New York and sees a fair amount of scrapes, and loses his stake on more than a few occasions. He’s a wise player who is still fresh on the scene, and his life and poker playing streak suffers when his best friend Lester “Worm” Murphy is released from prison.
In many ways, “Worm,” played by Edward Norton, is something of a walking talking life lesson; in other words, if Mike isn’t careful, he’ll end up just like his screwed-up friend who ends up landing Damon in a big mess before he leaves town.
Throughout the movie, you are introduced to a myriad of characters, and we learn about the many faces within poker. Those who’s tells are blindingly obvious, those who can’t afford to lose and those who play for fun, both of whom end up flat broke. Rounders shows you how individuals interact within the world of poker and where dumb luck and incredible skill can collide.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, it’s the finale that really pays off and is worth watching even outside the context of the film. Here we see Mike going for broke, taking significant risks with both his money and that of a pimp who has bought off the debt run up by “Worm” as he takes on a hilariously over-the-top Teddy “KGB” which offers John Malkovich one of the roles of his glittering acting career.
Mike takes numerous risks against the skillful Russian mobster and looks as if he’s about to take another nosedive before coming out on top in a breathtaking scene that closes the film in a more positive light than you might have first thought possible.
The film works on many levels. You don’t have to be a massive poker fan to appreciate what’s happening, but if you know the game, and indeed if you are a player who dabbles in many games across town, then you will identify with the film in a very visceral manner.
It’s a movie that has a cult following and one that grows better with age, and one that certainly tops any list of the best ever movies about poker.