Directed by John Dahl
Written by David Levien, Brian Koppelman
Since the great Courage Under Fire, Matt Damon always performed in very good movies, Rounders is not an exception to this rule. Although a movie featuring a lot of poker plays may not seem very appealing, the plot is quite interesting, rather solid and never boring, the characters are charming and the film-making ordinary but sober.
The story is about a young poker player, Mike, who managed to pay his university studies with his winnings. However, he stopped playing after he lost all his money in a single game and started working in an 'ordinary' way. When his old friend 'Worm' is released from prison but is full of debts, the old couple joins again trying to raise enough money to avoid troubles with the loan sharks. This ruins the relationship between Mike and his girlfriend and also his university career is compromised.
I often like complex movies both at story level and at narration level but here we have a completely plain story and a similarly plain narration. Everything is ordinary, there is nothing peculiar, still this is one of the main qualities of the movie! The director shows that a solid story, good actors and sober dialogues are enough to make an excellent and fairly thoughtful movie about life, friendship, addiction and vocation.
The movie offers a very interesting view of the world of gambling with a particular attention to poker. The voice-overs of Matt Damon explain a few tricks, make various comments about how to play, what to do and what to avoid doing when sitting at the poker table and finally give interesting insides of the mind of an addicted gambler. My preferred quoting is: "If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker".
Although it may not be immediately obvious, analyzing the story in detail you can discover that it mimics the plot of a typical action movie. The main character is a retired 'warrior' but the troubles of one of his old comrades pushes him to get back into the battle; when his friend is finally killed, he has to fight with the evil enemy boss who already defeated him in the past. Now, if you replace 'warrior' with 'player', 'battle' with 'poker match' and 'kill' with 'lose all the money', you can see the many similarities. This is obviously a very bad peculiarity of Rounders, fortunately it doesn't follow closely all the cliches of the 'genre'...
The finale, although quite predictable and also anticipated by various speeches of the characters, is very good and also likely. Overall, I particularly appreciated that the plot was closely centered on gambling and on its overwhelming attractive force over gamblers while the love affairs and the university life of the main character has been discussed only marginally.