Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 1/31/02
1998 (1999) - Miramax (Buena
review by Drew Feinberg of The
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/D-
Specs and Features
121 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2:35:1), single-sided, single-layered,
keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access
(28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) subtitles: English & French,
"You don't hear much about
guys who take their shot and miss. But I'll tell you what happens to 'em. They
wind up humping crappy jobs on graveyard shifts trying to figure out how they
came up short."
So sayeth cocky card shark/law student Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), after
blowing three stacks of high society (that's $30,000 to you non-rounder folk) to
scenery and Oreo chewing Teddy KGB in the opening scene of John Dahl's love
letter to underground poker. Sure, it's a very Hustler-esque
(Paul Newman, not Larry Flynt) way to open a movie, but to evoke perhaps the
best movie about obsessive gambling out there is a solid way to grab my
Of course, watching a movie about a card shark who never again enters the water
would be pretty much like watching Showgirls
on ABC - you'd be painfully aware that you're not seeing the best parts. Not
that Showgirls has any "best parts"
per se, but to paraphrase Oran Juice Jones, "Showgirls
without exploitation is like cornflakes without the milk." Back to Rounders...
Mike is stuck driving a truck for tuition money, living with whiny Jo (Gretchen
Mol) and grinding out a legit, but unstimulating, life... which would make for a
pretty boring movie.
Enter Edward Norton, aka Worm, who kicks the movie into gear and, like heroin
personified, lures Mike back into his old habits. Sure, Worm isn't exactly the
best influence in the world, putting Mike into the "worst kind" of
debt and getting his pretty boy face smushed (Mom always taught me to avoid
people with names like Worm - go figure.) But Mike not playing poker would be
like Will Hunting not doing big-time math or James Lipton not being pretentious,
so we welcome Mike back into his old stomping grounds with open arms.
Edward Norton is perhaps the best actor out there these days, and he makes Worm
the sleazeball you love to hate. He's like a combination of De Niro in Mean
Streets, Penn in Carlito's Way
and Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (a holy
trinity) - the sidekick who makes you want to slap the hero upside the head and
say, "Get away from him, you schmuck!" But all the while giving
electricity to every scene they're in.
And isn't it always fun to be introduced to, and sucked into, a world we know
nothing about? The script is chock full of phrases like "flopped the nut
straight" (try using that one at work tomorrow). And like Boiler
Room, it really feels like it's written by somebody in the know.
Damon does a good decent job with his role, but the it's the character actors
who really stand out in this one. John Turturro, John Malkovich and Martin
Landau all turn in solid performances. And as for Gretchen Mol... did I say how
good those other guys were?
Jean-Yves Escoffier (Good Will Hunting,
Nurse Betty) is one of the best
cinematographers in Hollywood today. He knows how to light a movie with the best
of 'em, and the look of this 2:35:1 DVD is stunning. It's a clean transfer, with
pure saturation, and the picture is incredibly sharp and detailed. If only it
were anamorphic widescreen, I'd almost be tempted to say it's reference quality.
Alas, Miramax will have to re-issue it in order to get me to reconsider. Get on
The 5.1 soundtrack is also solid. But of course, this isn't The
Matrix - the dialogue is the star here. The mix is heavy on the front
and center channels, although Christopher Young's score does take advantage of
the surrounds, as do the scenes taking place in crowded poker joints. There's no
distortion, and the overall sound quality is full and rich.
But the best part of the disc is the extras! One commentary by Dahl, another by
Damon and Norton playfully verbally sparring with each other, an hour long
documentary featuring Ricky Jay teaching the ins and outs of poker cons, a John
Dahl interview by David Mamet and an interactive game where you have to tell
what cards a player has by analyzing their cookie tells...! Yeah, right. I wish.
Sadly, this disc is like Whitney Houston after fasting for a weekend surgery.
Bare, bare bones. A full-screen trailer is what you get here... and that's it.
Oh wait, I forgot the "If you liked this title" section, with it's
oh-so-insightful recommendation that if I were to dig this film, Supercop
would be right up my alley. Which is about as useful as recommending Boogie
Nights to a person after they profess an affinity to Paulie.
The bare DVD aside, Rounders is a truly
unappreciated genre movie. It knows what it is and never tries to be anything
different. You can pretty much tell where it's going, and yet you enjoy the ride