High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

In the last year or so, there has been a great interest in the game of poker. Most notably, the interest rang high for Texas Hold Em. ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker as well as Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown has shown that both players and celebrities share that strong interest in the unlimited game of cards where taking a turn, going down the river and noticing the community can mean a big payoff in chips. One person who did the unthinkable in this game of cards is Stu Ungar who is the only person to win 3 of the World Series of Poker tournaments. Getting there was not easy as Stu struggled through his whole life and director A.W. Vidmer captures his life as a High Roller.

The place is a darkened hotel room and a man in round sunglasses (Michael Imperioli) is discussing himself to a mysterious individual that has told him that he owes big time. The man in sunglasses has been a master of cards ever since he was a kid playing gin in his father’s club. As he got older he’s tried a few bluffs and those bluffs have lead to debts, addiction and life threatening decisions. Between it all, he has a love of the game and a draw of the cards is his field of excellence. It’s just hanging on to what he has won that is his weakness and his downfall.

This viewer loves the look of a movie set in Vegas and unfortunately, the audience doesn’t get to see much of it. Despite an excellent performance by Michael Imperioli, this film is one endless loop of what not to do in between playing poker. The audience gets the idea that this is a person that doesn’t know what they’ve won until it’s gone but the idea keeps getting repeated over and over. There is an awareness at the beginning that it is based on a true story and it is a depressing story but there are depressing stories (Carnal Knowledge, Closer, Network) that maintain a great level of interest despite the depressing subject matter. This is a continuous downer story that does have some moments and a few scenes of interest but not much else and certainly something that has been seen in so many other movies that have preceded it and have dealt with different subject matters.

This viewer was consistantly reminded of the “tell me something I don’t know” with the familiarity of the story and the predictable turns the film had taken. Even predictability can be on a level that can remain interesting and entertaining but here both of those things fail in this film and the story didn’t grab this viewer as it should have. High Roller is on the roulette wheel and the number comes up black thirteen and the crap table rolls snake eyes. It wants to be an important piece and this viewer wanted to like it, but it had the unfortunate luck of being a story that has been told countless amount of times.

Video: How does it look?

High Roller is given the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with decent results. There is some specks almost every eight minutes and it doesn’t help that a lot of the movie is dark and fuzzy and the transfer keeps the blacks and colors balanced fine but every time there seem to be a moment of clarity, there was a few flaws in the transfer that was evident and hurt the transfer from being great to just being marginally good. This disc also has a full frame transfer on the reverse side.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is decent but is mostly reserved for the average score of the film as well as the dialogue and some effects. The film’s audio surround uses all channels nicely but most come from the back with the effects of sound and dialogue and other effects with not much activity coming from the front channels reserved for the rest of the audible experience. This disc also has a stereo surround track and a DTS track along with English and Spanish subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

New Line gives a handful of extras and they, along with Michael Imperioli’s performance, are what save this title from being a total disaster and it starts with a commentary track with director A.W. Vidmer, actress Renee Faia, actor Michael Imperioli, and Sopranos director and poker expert Vincent Van Patten. All of their info is more interesting than the film and each one comes on at their appropriate times and stick around for the remainder of time giving their piece of input. Despite a less than stellar movie, the commentary track is actually worth a listen thanks to the entertaining company.

Next there is a music video for one of the songs of the films which is okay but just average like the score of the film.

Finally comes the best part of this disc, five trailers of other New Line titles. On this disc, there is an exciting anamorphic trailer for After the Sunset, as well as trailers for Ripley’s Game, Dinner Rush, Blow and Knockaround Guys, one of which I know is a far superior film than the title that has the promos on (Try to guess which one!!)

High Roller attempts to teach a great lesson on the downfall of successful and unsuccessful gambling but fails on both levels as it falls into routine territory with no surprises or interest and where a commentary track and other trailers are the only saving grace.

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