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Saturday, May 5, 2012


Welcome to the weekend! Yay, we made it. :) So this weekend is my big blog swap and taking over here at the Imaginarium is my great friend, Russell from the bad ass film site 1:37 Exactly. He and one of his most brilliant guest reviewers, Rainbow, are talking about one of their favorite films, Rounders. I will be over at Russell's site as soon as I see Avengers and write up a review. So without further ado...Enjoy their take on this Matt Damon/Edward Norton classic.

"Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker" - Mike McDermott 

I can't tell you how many times I've watched Rounders over the years. I've simply lost count. It became the movie I would put on when I didn't know what else to watch. When no other title would jump out at me from the DVD shelf, it became my go-to movie. I could always rely on Rounders. If you haven't yet seen Rounders then you should stop reading this and go and watch it NOW. If you want a little more information, here's a brief overview.

Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a very talented poker player who turns his back on the game to focus on making his way through Law School but is slowly drawn back into the poker world when he must stand by a lifelong friend, Lester "Worm" Murphy (Edward Norton) whose gambling debts are reaching dangerous levels.

There is a good chance that I am going to talk about some detailed aspects of the film so I do suggest that you watch it first before reading any further.

The first time I came across Rounders was when I was working in Blockbuster Video and I'm pretty sure that I watched it because it had Matt Damon in it and I liked what he did in Good Will Hunting and The Rainmaker but I don't believe I really knew Edward Norton at that time, although I did go back and watch Primal Fear as a result of his performance in this movie (that's a discussion for another day though).

Watching Rounders is akin to reading a Shakespearean play, not because it's set 400 years ago but because of the themes discussed; Man vs Human Nature, Lust, Betrayal, Friendship, Romance, Loyalty, and because it is about a man's struggle "to thine own self be true".

My favourite theme of Rounders is that of Man's (or Mike's) struggle against his own Inner-Nature and how he must not only accept but embrace who he is in order to move on with his life. A man is only able to fool himself so long before he ultimately realises who he is no matter how hard he tries to fight it.

Mike McDermott is a man who is a poker player at heart and a damn good one at that. When he let his own grandiose visions of living large in Las Vegas blind him at the table at Teddy KGB's place, the ensuing fall to reality is a hard one that results in Mike turning his back on who he is. However no matter how hard he tries to be someone else and pretend that the card table means nothing to him, the desire to be back in the chair with chips in his hands is only just beneath the surface. Just like a siren's song it doesn't take much for the desire to come back...

After trying to go "straight" for nine months with no poker tables and fulfilling a promise to his girlfriend to steer clear of his previous lifestyle, things get bumpy as Mike begins to realise that he is fighting his natural instinct. There are various situations and characters that fan the flames of desire and reawaken his natural (poker) instinct; sitting in on the judge's poker table, helping Worm get set up in various games, walking into venues where he previously used to command a presence, and seeing old acquaintances makes Mike realise who is.

Once Mike embraces who he is and steps back into the world of high aces, river cards, and straight flushes, he carries himself with more caution and direction than earlier in the film. This change in attitude not only results in a positive outcome with Teddy KGB but Mike has fully realised what he wants in life and nothing will stop him from going after it. Johnny Chan, look out! 

Mike's journey in Rounders is mirrored by Professor Abe Petrovsky (Martin Landau) who in some of the film's best scenes explains that when he was a young boy he was to become a Rabbi but after studying the Talmud he never truly saw God. Despite the crushing disappointment felt by his parents, Abe knew he needed to be honest with himself and follow his path towards his destiny. Unlike Mike, Abe did not try to fool himself (or anyone else) by being anything other than honest with himself and who he was.

My two favourite quotes delivered during McDermott's and Petrovsky's conversations that sum up the themes of Man vs Human Nature are;

Professor Petrovsky: We can't run from who we are. Our destiny chooses us

Mike McDermott:  If you had it to do all over again, knowing what would happen, would you make the same choice? 
Professor Petrovsky: What choice?

The characters of Mike McDermott and Lester "Worm" Murphy are mirror images of each other, at the same time both similar and opposite. When the film begins, the two characters are representative of opposite sides of the spectrum - McDermott has turned his back on his desire for card playing and is fighting his natural instinct, while Worm has embraced his inner instinct to the extreme where he plays to only win, generally involving "shady" techniques.

Worm is a man who is motivated by the need to make as much money as possible in order to prevent his legs from being broken, or worse. It's this motivation which causes him to use whatever edge he can to attain victory. However you get the impression that even if he wasn't in need of the money that he would still be employing various techniques to win each hand. 

"You always think you can beat the game straight up. That's not me. I told you, I'm always gonna look for that edge. Always"

In the end, Worm is the one who runs away from his problems and Mike (having grown over the course of the film) stays and faces Teddy KGB head on. 

Rounders is a film of multiple layers, complex themes, and involving characters, all set against the legal and illegal world of poker. Directed by John Dahl (Californication) and written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, Rounders is a film that easily makes my Top 10 Films of all time.

My Final Thoughts; Know who you are. Don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise. Live your life. Go chase your dreams.

"First prize at the World Series of Poker is a million bucks. Does it have my name on it? I don't know. But, I'm gonna find out."

Rainbow's View

Rounders has a bit of a Good Will Hunting feel to it. A troubled guy faces his issues head on and may or may not come out on top and all the while revolving around a girl. Now ‘how do you like them apples?’ So, did the movie speak to me? Oh absolutely. I get cards. I’m that girl that goes to the casino with her man, but rather than sit at the back and watch it all unfold, I’m the girl at the table, taking my mans money – along with everyone else’s... and loving every second of it. 


The basis for the plot for Rounders is based around Mike. Mike is a law student by day and professional poker player by night.  His skill is to read his competition and bet accordingly. Mike meets a girl, Jo. Jo bails him out from a rather large Poker debt in exchange for him to quit. Basically he chooses the girl over the game. Until his friend Worm is released from jail, and the games begin...


The lead role of Mike is played by Matt Damon. Ever since I saw Good Will Hunting I’ve had a soft spot for Damon; and again seeing him on the big screen as Jason Bourne. So to go back in time and watch Rounders was quite a vintage delight. Damon embodies Mike with elements that make you believe that he really is Mike. The screen time he shares with Martin Landau as Abe Petrovsky is like watching a nephew and his favourite uncle, endearingly emotive yet with a distinct hierarchy and strong element of mutual respect.

Jo -The Girlfriend
Gretchen Mol plays Mike’s girlfriend, Jo.  Mol’s role is an interesting one.  While I want to understand her place and why she says/does things, at the same time, I dislike her presence on screen.  There seems to be a little disconnect of chemistry between Mol and Damon.  It just doesn’t seem to click. This is perhaps an error in casting as opposed to the character itself.  

Edward Norton plays Worm. An old school friend of Mike’s, who Mike feel he was indebted to.  Norton plays the role well as a gambling junkie always in need of a win, a hit, a score. Mike, like all of us, must go through the motions of what to do when an old friend leaches off your success and your reputation.  This alone hit a little close to home for me, so I related to the affiliation between Mike and Worm. I think everyone can relate to this one way or another, whether you’ve been the leach or the leached.I think the name says it all.  


Noone named KGB can be a good-guy right?  Well you’d be correct.  KGB, played by John Malkovich is the dodgy Russian kingpin that has a very strong affiliation for his Oreos.  Some of the best lines of the movie are delivered by Malkovich. Just don’t touch his Oreos.  

All the while you want Mike to come out on top you hope he does it with copious wads of dollars in his pocket.  Don’t we always want the struggling student to make it in the end? Overall the movie was just one of those that’s easy to watch. It doesn’t have you on the end of your seat but, like some of the other movies of its time, just speak to you. 

What do you all think? Agree with Russell and Rainbow? A bit meh? Haven't seen it in years? Or abhor the very essence of this film? Speak your mind below, Imaginarians. Tell us what you think.

I will be at 1:37 Exactly a bit later as I will be discussing The Avengers and I have yet to see it. Sold out! Insert Yosemite Sam curses here. 


  1. Thanks so much for the opportunity to hang out here at the Imaginarium, Mel! I am absolutely humbled to have the opportunity to talk 'Rounders' with a new group of great people!

    I've loved 'Rounders' since I first saw it and find it gets better with every viewing!!

    So guys, I can't wait to hear your thoughts too :D

  2. Thank you Russell and Rainbow for your thoughts on this fantastic movie. I do believe a re-watch is in order as you have both pointed out somethings on theme and character that have my mind churning.

  3. It's funny you say that because I needed to pick up a copy before writing the post because I wanted to make sure that I had it all fresh in mind. On the upside, we picked it up for $6.99 :)

  4. Brilliant and incredibly detailed review. Excellent job, Russ!

    1. Wasn't this great! Makes me want to see it again right now. :)

    2. If I can encourage more people to watch 'Rounders' again then I feel like my job is done ;)

  5. Thanks so much for the feedback, George. Really appreciate it, sir. It's just one of those films which inspired me to write a bit more than usual.

  6. I haven't actually seen Rounders - so I only skimmed - but always cool to see passionate movie fans guesting in the Imaginarium - so cheers!

    Now I have to go watch Rounders!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Craig. Yeah Rounders is one of those films which really struck a chord with me so it was nice to be able to put all the thoughts in one collective area.

      I hope you get to see it soon, would love to hear your thoughts :)

    2. Hey Craig! Now you know you have to watch Rounders. I want to see it again, myself, as I thoroughly enjoyed it the first time around. I'm happy you enjoyed Russell's and rainbow's guest spot. I'm going to convince them to come back. :)

  7. I like Rounders a lot, although not enough to put it in my Top 100. Damon and Norton are usually good in anything. I often wonder how this movie would play for people who have never watched poker on TV?

    1. Hi Steve, thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts. I agree. Damon and Norton are good in anything they do. They are amazing talents. You raise a good point. I can say that I have never watched poker on TV, but I have played enough to understand all the jargon. I looked at this as a bit of a learning experience.

    2. Hey Steve! Thanks for the comment, mate! It's funny because I'm not a big poker player at all because I feel that the film is only really set against the world of poker while the themes are universal. Although that said, if it was set in the world of cricket I might just have to go watch paint dry ;)

  8. Gosh, I remember me and my friend cut class and saw this movie back in '98. We watched it and then snuck into OUT OF SITE. It was a brilliant double-bill.There's talk of a sequel to ROUNDERS... wonder how you feel about that?

    1. Thanks for the comment :)

      That's so awesome cutting class to go watch a movie, and to top it off, what a double feature!!

      Yeah when I first heard about the sequel I was a lil upset but then I starting thinking that if they can deliver the same type of feel as the first film without cheapening what has been established then I think I am ok with it :)


    2. A movie is one of the best reasons to cut class. And I'm with Russell, what a great double feature.

      If a sequel is in the works, I just hope they can deliver the same edgy story. I'd love to see Damon and Norton reprise their roles.


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