Plot: What’s it about?
“If you can’t spot the sucker at the table in the first thirty minutes, you are the sucker.”
The dark underworld of poker is something that’s not explored in movies, either in the past or the present. Something has happened, though, during the last few years that has brought poker into the limelight. ESPN broadcasts the “World Series of Poker” every year. “Celebrity Poker” is a show that we can tune into and watch on a regular basis. Poker, by true professionals, isn’t really gambling as it is more of a way of life. Yes, money is won (and lost) and the emotional highs and lows are more than most people are willing to experience. However “Rounders” is now six years old and though not that long ago, it seems that poker has really gone mainstream since this movie came out. Judging by the box office, I was one of the very few who saw it in theaters and I’ve watched the old bare bones disc time and time again. Suffice it to say that when this new “Collector’s Edition” was announced – I was very excited. And a lot has happened to the careers of Matt Damon and Edward Norton since this movie as well. Damon and fellow “beantown” buddy, Ben Affleck, aren’t exactly the Golden Boys they were (Affleck has enjoyed more commercial success than Damon), but they’re still both very active making movies. Edward Norton hasn’t lost any of his edge, either. His role as Worm in this movie was great as are all of his performances. In fact, Norton and Damon were actually invited to play in the actual World Series of Poker a few years back. But enough about all that, for those who haven’t seen “Rounders”, well you’re missing out on one of the better low-key dramas in recent years.
The movie opens as Mike (Matt Damon) decides to “make a run”. A high-stakes poker game has come about and he seizes the opportunity to literally put all of his chips on the table only to lose it all. He’s a third year law student and his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol) isn’t too supportive of his gambling habits. Cut to a few months later where Mike now drives a delivery truck. He’s also awaiting the arrival of Worm (Edward Norton), a friend of his who is being released from jail. If Mike is the smart player then Worm is the one who takes all the risks. Worm has perfected the art of cheating on the inside and almost immediately he gets Mike involved in a game with some local rich boys. They win, of course, but Mike has committed to Jo (Mol) that he wouldn’t partake in any more games. The only words of wisdom come from Joey Knish (John Turturro), a player who has ground out a living by folding, folding, folding. But things go from bad to worse when Worm inadvertently gets in debt to Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), a player himself with ties to the Russian mafia. Mike must then take up for his friend, borrow money from his law professor (Martin Landau) and attempt to go on the “run of runs” thereby winning enough to get his friend out of debt.
“Rounders” is one of those movies that just has something about it that I love. While not commercially successful, I think it’s found a good cult following (as evidenced by this new Collector’s Edition) and features a very respectable cast (Damon, Norton, Malkovich, Turturro, Landau and Famke Jessen) to name a few. What’s better is the screenplay by David Levien and Brian Koppelman. The dialogue has lots of “insider” lingo that poker players are used to. It’s a real movie about poker and not some glossed-over production in which the winning hand is a royal flush. Directed by John Dahl, who is noted for some of his efforts like “Red Rock West” and “Kill Me Again”, he seemed to capture the right mood for the movie. If you’re looking for car chases, action, things blowing up and the like then I can recommend “The Italian Job” (for Norton fans) and “The Bourne Identity” (for Damon fans). If you’re looking for a great character/dialogue-driven movie, then this is it. Being a fan of poker doesn’t have to be a prerequisite, but it certainly doesn’t hurt either. I can say that if you own the previous DVD release, give it to a friend or family member. This new edition will easily replace the existing one in no small part due to a great-looking anamorphic transfer and supplements. Highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
The previous DVD of “Rounders” had a fairly average 2.35:1 non-anamorphic transfer. Thankfully that has been resolved and the new 16:9 transfer is very nice indeed. The movie is very dark, and rich earthy tones abound. This new transfer makes up for the errors that plagued the old one. Artifacting and the dirt on the print have been removed and the image as a whole looks to be a lot sharper, with more attention to detail. Naturally this makes for a better overall presentation and it’s nice to have a good-looking anamorphic transfer for this movie.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio is the same Dolby Digital 5.1 track that was used for the first disc and hence, it sounds the same. This is a very subdued score, to reflect the mood of the film. Dialogue is crystal clear and a majority of the movie is narrated by Mike (Matt Damon), and it sounds very solid here. There aren’t many surround effects to speak of, just some background noise. Most of the action is limited to the front stage and it sounds just fine. The bottom line is that this movie isn’t about sound, but what we do have sounds great.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main draw here is the dual commentary tracks (and the new anamorphic transfer). The first features director John Dahl, screenwriters David Levien and Brian Koppelman as well as actor Edward Norton (though it would have been awesome to have Matt Damon there as well). This is pretty informative track concentrating on, naturally, the setup of the movie and mood. It’s a very technical commentary. What’s a bit more fun is the second track with “real life” poker champions Johnny Chang, Phil Hellmuth, and Chris Moneymaker to name a few. These guys seem pretty impressed with the reality of the movie, the lingo and how accurately everything was portrayed. I’m willing to be this was their first movie commentary track and it’s nice to have this second track included. The same guys also give out some very brief tips on playing poker. It’s nothing revolutionary, but a nice feature to have as well. Two featurettes are also included “How to Play Poker” with some interviews with poker legends along with Matt Damon and Edward Norton and a “Behind the Scenes Special”. Essentially it’s not like the promotional fluff that we’re all used to and these two featurettes actually compliment the movie. Lastly, a set top game of “Texas Hold ‘Em” is included. You have to pass a few trivia questions to play with the “Big Boys”, but its fun nonetheless. There appears to be no pattern to the cards, either. So if all else fails, you could play this game for a while. Lastly, I usually don’t comment on packaging, but I found the cover to be pretty slick. It looks like a deck of cards and the disc itself looks like, you guessed it, a poker chip. All in all a great movie just got better with some supplements and a great-looking new transfer.