The Good: Acting, Pacing
The Bad: Plot, Characters
The Basics: Great acting saves the otherwise droll characters in this predictably-plotted tale of underworld gambling.
[So, I was rereading my previous review of Rounders and I knew it wasn't the best review I ever wrote. At the same time, I couldn't remember much about the movie to add to it and I remembered it just well-enough to recall that I didn't want to watch it again. So, here's an early review from me! Enjoy!]
Rounders is a drama about underground poker games. I felt like starting one of my reviews with the most direct possible ways. Sue me.
While the plot was overall predictable, the acting was good. The film opens with Michael (played by Matt Damon) playing a serious game of poker. Following that game, he gets a real job and goes clean. That is, rather predictably, until his old running buddy gets out of jail. His friend, Worm (played by Edward Norton) immediately gets into trouble in the gambling underworld and, unfortunately, Michael had vouched for him.
Thus, when the "bookie" (I'm not sure that's the right term for that type of criminal) goes after Worm, Michael and Worm are put in a position where they need to come up with $15,000. Quick. When Worm books, Michael is left holding the bag and his card playing skills are put to the ultimate test. So, Michael goes on a gambling spree to try to save his butt.
If you're a follower of my reviews, you've noticed I'm using more colloquialisms than I usually do. They're there for a reason. Rounders is full of gambling dialect and jargon. The thing is, much of it is explained, or in the context it becomes evident what everyone is talking about.
Michael does voiceovers throughout the film and that's part of the film's overall cliche. We know most of what happens by the opening of the film. As such, most of the characters are flat. Each of them is fairly one-dimensional. The exceptions are in the peripheral characters. Martin Landau and John Turturro appear too briefly in the film acting as Judge Abe and Joey. Both of the actors excel and both of their characters have sufficient depth. That is, they had more to them than that which was part of the main plot. They were characters.
Outside the two of them, the film is populated more successfully by actors than by characters. Matt Damon gives an excellent performance as Michael. Michael? He's one dimensional, but Damon plays him well. Gretchen Moll appears in the film in a role that is completely chiched. It's a stereotype fit in to the plot of "good guy tries to come clean from the Underworld and is lured in against all reasonable judgment." She fits the role of "loving support that serves as foil to the Underworld." Gretchen acts well; it's the role that stinks. John Malkovich plays Russian card player Teddy KGB whose actions open and close the film in relation to Damon's character. And Malkovich gives his usual superb performance. Unfortunately, the writers of the film assume less of the audience than they ought. What is supposed to be the surprise revelation in KGB's character is given away in the first scene. The acting, however, is superb.
The only time the acting failed was in a scene immediately following Mike and Worm getting beat up. While they exert themselves greatly in getting themselves off the ground, defining the wounds we can't see (i.e. a broken rib), they then have dialogue completely devoid of expressing the pain they ought to be in.
This was another average film that came down to a coin toss for me as to whether to recommend it or not. It's average. The acting is pretty wonderful, the film moves well, but the film is sorely lacking in character development outside the lines of a cliched rise, fall, and resurrect hero arc that dominates Hollywood plots.
For other dramas that have an element of tension to them, please check out my reviews of:
The Social Network
For other movie reviews, check out my very organized listing on my index page!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.