REEL LIFE: Rounders
by Sharon Knolle
Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a rounder, a poker player so gifted he need never do anything else for money. That is, until he recklessly gambles away his entire college fund and quits the game for good, much to his girlfriend's satisfaction. But then his best friend, Worm, a fellow rounder and unreformed cheat, gets out of prison. Can Mike stay away from the poker tables? Can he save Worm from his cheating ways and his mountain of debt?
Of course Mike gets sucked back in, to help Worm and the chance for the ultimate poker psyche-out. The big showdown: Mike must put everything he has on the line, including his life, for one all-night poker session with the Russian who cleaned him out earlier.
Worm, as played by chameleon Edward Norton, is a Ratso Rizzo-like dead-end loser. He's such an obvious mess, he almost blinds the audience to the fact that Mike's nearly as messed up as he is.
Director John Dahl (The Last Seduction) gets the adrenaline and psychology of card games across, and those of you who don't gamble, or do so infrequently, will be sweating as great sums of money hang on the line.
Casting golden boy Matt Damon is almost a handicap to the a story, threatening to turn it into Good Will Gambling. Surprisingly, the movie doesn't regard Mike's gambling as an addiction to overcome, but as his one true gift. It's an ode to cockiness, to the big score, to taking chances, in other words, to following your dream. Call it "Born to Bet."