Rounders (1998)

When you get in trouble playing poker and then sort your trouble out playing poker

If you’re into poker and you still haven’t watched this movie, it’s about time you rectify that. First of all, most movies that center around poker are mostly hogwash and more comical than anything, to someone who actually enjoys playing the game. Rounders, however, manages to sidestep this pitfall and, it seems, they actually consulted some real life poker players when they made this movie. This means that even if you do, in fact, enjoy poker and truly understand it, you hopefully won’t be tempted to chuck your TV set out the living room window half way through the movie.


The basic story here is that a pretty decent poker player, Mike McDermot, played by Matt Damon, gets himself a proper ass kicking from a Russian mobster when he manages to lose $30,000 in an illegal underground poker game. After his poker disaster, he decides it’s time to focus on law school, getting a part time job and leaving the poker rooms well alone. Of course, that couldn’t last. What kind of movie would that make? And let’s be honest, have you ever known anyone who really enjoys the thrill of the game to just leave it, cold turkey? I didn’t think so. Anyway, Mike manages quite well for a while until a childhood friend gets out of prison. The friend, Lester Murphy, played by Edward Norton, is a poker player just like Mike, and just like Mike, he managed to get his ass in some heavy trouble before he got locked up. He is eventually given five days to pay off his outstanding debt, and there’s no one else to help him but Mike.


As Lester, or Worm as he’s most often referred to, would prefer to cheat his way to the money, Mike is the one who needs to keep him at bay and find a way to earn the money without making even more enemies in the underground poker world. Not all that surprising, they manage to get almost to their goal before the twist. Did you guess it yet? Yes, Worm gets caught cheating by base-dealing and they’re both beaten up and the money disappears with their dignity.


Worm, being true to his name, feels this is a good time to go to ground and he suggests Mike joins him in leaving the city. Mike, not being named after an earth dwelling animal with no spine, refuses to run away and instead manages to get a loan to challenge the Russian mobster to a game that could potentially settle the debt. Now, I don’t want to spoil the movie for you – so feel free to stop reading here – but Mike’s the hero here, and, of course, he doesn’t sail through easily, but he does eventually make out that the mobster has a signature tell, and manages to turn the game around. Debts are paid back, normality is restored and Mike goes on to take his chances at the Las Vegas World Series of Poker Main Event.

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